Film capsules, July 17, 2014

Film capsules, July 17, 2014

Summaries and mini-reviews of movies playing now, from e3 magazine:

  • AMC = AMC Village Mall, Danville.
  • ART = The Art Theater, Champaign
  • CAR = Carmike, Champaign
  • HAR = Harvest Moon Drive-In, Gibson City
  • NOR = The Normal Theater, Normal
  • ONA = The Onarga Theater, Onarga
  • PRI = Princess Theatre, LeRoy
  • SAV = Savy 16, Savoy
  • VIR = Virginia Theatre, Champaign

AMERICA. A story that imagines that the United States lost the Revolutionary War and therefore never existed. (Internet Movie Database). Rated PG-13. 103 minutes. SAV.

BEGIN AGAIN. Mark Ruffalo stars as a down-and-out music producer who discovers a fresh singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) and convinces her to make an album with him. While they're both nursing broken hearts, the emotional vulnerability each of them feels helps them produce an uncommonly real piece of art. Written and directed by John Carney ("Once"), the film, despite its manipulative nature, proves engaging thanks to the fine work of the two leads and Adam Levine as a musician who loses his way. The music is quite good, and the movie is unabashedly romantic, resulting in a filmgoing experience that will put a smile on your face, something all too rare during this summer movie season. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 104 minutes. SAV.

BLUE VELVET (1986). (Starts Friday). Director David Lynch's look at the underbelly of the American Dream was shocking when it was released in 1986, and it still packs a punch today. Returning home after his father takes ill, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) stumbles upon a plot that involves blackmail, kidnapping and murder when he becomes involved with haunted torch singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosellini). Graphic in its violence and language while shocking in its display of aberrant human behavior, this is a polemic work that should be applauded for its daring, unbridled performances and gripping story. Dennis Hopper steals the film as the live-wire deviant Frank Booth, one of the most frightening characters in movie history. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 120 minutes. ART.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. This sequel to "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" picks up 10 years after that film and finds simian leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) at the head of a community of apes longing to live in peace. However, this dream is dashed when humans stumble upon their enclave and war ensues. The visual effects and motion-capture images remain impressive, and there are some effectively poignant moments throughout. However, the film gets bogged down in its second hour with repetitious action scenes and needless narrative complications. 21/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 130 minutes. AMC, CAR, HAR, SAV.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL. Eric Bana stars as a hardened New York City cop who comes to reluctantly believe that a series of grisly crimes has been committed by perpetrators possessed by demons. Combining cliches from both the police and horror genres, the film winds up being a mash-up of tired plot points and characters. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 118 minutes. CAR.

EARTH TO ECHO. This well-meaning but derivative entertainment follows the adventures of three boys who find a stranded alien creature and try to help him get back to his native planet. An obvious homage (rip-off?) of "E.T." and "Super 8," the movie is far too predictable to be engaging, though kids under 8 years old will probably enjoy it. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 89 minutes. CAR, SAV.

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER. (Opens Friday). Who is Vivian Maier? Now considered one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a mysterious nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that went unseen during her lifetime. Since buying her work by chance at auction, amateur historian John Maloof has crusaded to put this prolific photographer in the history books. Maier's strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never-before-seen photographs, films and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her. (arththeater.coop). Not rated. 83 minutes. ART.

FROZEN (SING-ALONG) (2013). (Starts Thursday, July 24). A special screening of the singalong version of one of the most popular animated films of all time. Sing along to the words of the Academy Award-nominated film event of a generation. A mountain climber and a young girl named Anna team up on an epic journey to find the legendary Snow Queen and end the eternal winter that has fallen over their kingdom. Based on the fairy tale "The Snow Queen" written by Hans Christian Andersen. (thevirginia.org). VIR.

GLENN BECK'S WE WILL NOT CONFORM. (Tuesday).Broadcast live from Mercury Studios in Irving, Texas, "We Will Not Conform" is a fully interactive experience, during which audiences will actively engage in conversation with Beck, along with education experts such as Michelle Malkin and David Barton to discuss common core and public education and develop tangible strategies in the pursuit of enacting real change in schools. SAV.

GROWING CITIES. (Tuesday). Presented by Prosperity Gardens, this feature-length documentary that examines the role of urban farming in America and asks how much power it has to revitalize our cities and change the way we eat. In their search for answers, filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette take a road trip across the U.S. and meet the men and women who are challenging the way this country grows and distributes its food, one vacant city lot, rooftop garden and backyard chicken coop at a time. (arththeater.coop). Not rated. 90 minutes. ART.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. This impressive follow-up takes a far more serious approach than its predecessor as it ushers its hero Hiccup (voice by Jay Baruchel) into adulthood when his community is forced to go to war against a despot named Drago (Djimon Hounsou). Visually stunning and genuinely exciting, this film pulls no punches as we witness Hiccup's tumultuous journey toward becoming a man. An effective family film that will prompt discussion afterward and will stick with you after the credits roll. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 102 minutes. CAR, SAV.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this examination of the relationship that developed between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), a young actress who eventually becomes his mistress. With its haunting, melancholy tone, the film forcefully examines the power of celebrity, the hypocrisy of society and the tragic effect these events have on Ternan, who is forced to bear a burden she never bargained for after being manipulated by her desperate mother (Kristin Scott-Thomas) and allowing her hero worship of Dickens to blossom into an ill-conceived relationship. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 111 minutes. NOR.

JERSEY BOYS. In this big-screen adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical, director Clint Eastwood gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the formation and rise to fame of the 1960s rock quartet The Four Seasons. The story is familiar — group makes it big, infighting threatens to tear it apart, etc. — but Eastwood's choice to have the characters narrate the story directly to the audience makes it immediate and fresh. This engaging approach and the group's incredible musical legacy, on full display, make this a winner. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 134 minutes. PRI, SAV.

LIFE ITSELF. This probing documentary on the life of film critic Roger Ebert proves to be more than simply a by-the-numbers account of his accomplishments as a writer and husband. While the recounting of his rise of to journalistic fame is interesting, the true measure of the man is seen as we witness him bravely combat the various health issues that would plague him later in life. Though a bit too long, the film contains more warts-and-all realism than we're accustomed to seeing in projects of this sort, which elevates it above other movies of its ilk. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 115 minutes. ART.

MALEFICENT. A new take on the "Sleeping Beauty" tale finds an innocent young woman named Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) who's forced to compromise herself in order to protect her homeland from an invading army. When she's betrayed and casts a curse on the invading king's daughter, she finds herself changing in ways she never imagined. This is one of the most visually stunning films of the year as the creatures it contains and the sets it utilizes are innovative and fresh. However, the thin story is stretched past its breaking point, and while Jolie is great fun to watch, in the end the movie ends up overstaying its welcome. 21/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 97 minutes. SAV.

MONTY PYTHON LIVE — MOSTLY. (Starts Sunday). Experience the final performance of Monty Python's last stage show together (probably), live on July 20, with rebroadcasts on July 23 and 24. For the first time in over three decades, Monty Python will be performing live on stage together at London's famed O2 Arena. At a combined age of just 361, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin will once again perform some of their greatest hits, with modern, topical, Python-esque twists. Not rated. 180 minutes. SAV.

OBVIOUS CHILD. (Starts Friday). Writer/director Gillian Robespierre takes a daring approach to the issue of abortion as this film, about an insecure comedian (Jenny Slate) who must deal with an unwanted pregnancy, approaches this subject from a comedic angle. Not for all tastes, this is a refreshing exercise buoyed by the likability of its characters and the pragmatic view Robespierre takes toward this controversial topic. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 84 minutes. ART.

PERSECUTED. (Starts Friday). A conspiracy is afoot when an evangelist finds himself on the run after being accused of murder. His refusal to back a bill that will institute religious reform may have something to do with it. Rated PG-13. 91 minutes. SAV.

PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE. (Starts Friday). In this sequel to Disney's surprise 2013 hit, air racer Dusty (voice by Dane Cook) finds out that he can no longer compete so he decides to join The Smokejumpers, aerial firefighters who do all they can to fight forest fires. Rated PG. 83 minutes. AMC, CAR, HAR, ONA, SAV.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY. (Starts Friday). This sequel to last year's horror hit focuses on five people who find themselves on the streets of Los Angeles during the annual purge, a 12-hour period when citizens can break any law with impunity. While the film is flawed, its message of rage and dissatisfaction with the gulf between the Haves and the Have-nots hits a chord that will resonate with the audience, making this an effective genre exercise with a purpose. 3 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 103 minutes. AMC, CAR, SAV.

THE RAILWAY MAN. (Starts Thursday, July 24). Hang in through the stuffy start, and you'll get an emotionally powerful (though graphic) film about the horrors of war (World War II) and its aftereffects. With Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine. 3 stars (David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer). Rated R. 116 minutes. NOR.

SEX TAPE. (Starts Friday). In an effort to spice up their sex life, married couple Jay and Annie (Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz) decide to film their lovemaking. All is well, until the show-all goes viral on the Internet. Rated R. 90 minutes. AMC, CAR, SAV.

SNOWPIERCER. (Starts Friday). Director Joon-ho Bong's dynamic sci-fi epic takes place in a dystopian future in which the only remaining humans perpetually circle the globe in a massive train after a modern ice age occurs. A class system is used to assign passengers to specific cars, and the social commentary Bong makes through this plot device is as biting as the cold buffeting the title train. Good performances from the cast, which includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris and John Hurt, dynamic production design and a gripping narrative, make this a worthy entry in the sci-fi genre. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 126 minutes. ART.

TAMMY. Melissa McCarthy stars in the title role as a clueless young woman who's made a mess of her life and hits the road with her alcoholic grandmother (Susan Sarandon) to find some direction. McCarthy's shtick has worn thin in record time as she plays another obnoxious, ignorant, abrasive woman who's more grating than appealing. The only saving grace here is Sarandon, who delivers a solid performance despite the shoddy part she's been handed. 2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 96 minutes. AMC, CAR, SAV.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. Loud, long and stupid, Michael Bay's latest toy-driven extravaganza stars Mark Wahlberg as a mechanic who finds Optimus Prime and reanimates him, bringing government goons down on his head and another alien war on ours. Nearly incomprehensible and just plain dumb, this is an assault not entertainment that's likely to make your ears bleed rather than thrill you. 1 star (Chuck Koplinski) Rated PG-13. 165 minutes. AMC, CAR, SAV.

22 JUMP STREET. Undercover cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are back in action when they're assigned to enroll in a local community college to root out yet another drug dealer. However, their friendship is put in jeopardy when they both make new friends and develop new interests. Clever and very funny, this is a worthy follow-up to the first film as it never takes itself seriously and benefits greatly from the chemistry of its two leads. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 112 minutes. CAR, SAV.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). This cinematic classic is one of the landmarks of the Hollywood studio system and is a prime example of the sort of grand, escapist entertainment it generated. The tale of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland, in a career-defining role), who learns how much she loves her Kansas home, only after having been swept away to the magical land of Oz, was not a financial success during its initial release, but it has come to be regarded as indicative of the purity and safety of the rural American way of life. It's also a great deal of fun what with its memorable songs and characters as well as the magnificent production design that brings Oz so vividly to life. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Not rated. 102 minutes. SAV.

YOGI BEAR. (Starts Monday). Hanna-Barbera's beloved picnic-basket-stealing bear makes his big-screen debut in this live-action/animated mix from director Eric Brevig ("Journey to the Center of the Earth"). Brad Copeland provides the screenplay, which centers around a documentary crew (headed by Anna Faris) as it delves into the goings-on of Jellystone Park, home to Yogi and Boo Boo (voiced by Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake, respectively). 82 minutes. Rated PG. SAV.

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