Film capsules, March 13, 2014

Film capsules, March 13, 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

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. This adaptation of Tracey Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play focuses on the Weston clan, an Oklahoma family lorded over by Violet (Meryl Streep), a harpy of a woman who takes malicious joy in bringing down anyone who crosses her path. Things come to a head when her husband (Sam Shepard) goes missing and her family rallies around her in support. Familial tension rises, sparks fly and everyone in the all-star cast gets a chance to shine. While the story is compelling and the writing rings true both in its humor and drama, the film comes to a standstill far too often when its Hollywood stars step into the spotlight to show they can act. With Julia Roberts, who does a great job as Violet's daughter, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney and Benedict Cumberbatch. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 121 minutes. PRI.

BOTTLE ROCKET (1996). (Starts Sunday). Wes Anderson's first feature film focuses on three clueless friends (Robert Musgrave, Owen and Luke Wilson) who hatch a heist scheme that's doomed from the start yet opens up the eyes of the three would-be-crooks to their own limitations. This movie introduced us to Anderson's wry humor as well as the Wilson brothers, who would go on to be mainstays in the director's films. The filmmaker's distinctive visual stylings were yet to come, but this feature served notice that a distinct, cinematic voice had arrived. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated R. 105 minutes. ART.

ELTON JOHN: THE MILLION DOLLAR PIANO CONCERT. (Tuesday). Captured live from his residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, The Million Dollar Piano 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.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009). (Starts Friday). This boisterous, rollicking and imaginative adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about the wily Mr. Fox (voice by George Clooney) whose failure to tame his restless nature is a dynamic film that captures the imagination and is entertaining for all ages. Using stop-motion animation, elaborate model sets and having the actors do all that the characters do on screen so that their breathing and voice patterns match the action, this is a wonderful film with distinctive characters that delivers a poignant message about finding your place in the world. Featuring the voice talents of Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe and Michael Gambon. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 87 minutes. ART.

FROZEN. Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Snow Queen," this animated feature from Disney concerns a young woman named Anna (voiced by Kristin Bell) and her efforts to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel), who has the power to create snow and ice, which she can no longer control. Smart, funny and containing some of the best songs to be found in a Disney film in recent memory, the movie succeeds in entertaining us in the studio's grand tradition. While the film is not wholly original, the enthusiasm with which it's executed makes up for its familiarity. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG. 108 minutes. SAV.

THE GREAT BEAUTY (LA GRANDE BELLEZZA). (Starts Sunday). Paolo Sorrentino's film focuses on Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a writer who has lived on the reputation of a single novel he wrote decades ago and is prompted to look back on his life after his 65th birthday. His search for the truth about himself and the world around him reveals hypocrisy at every turn, while his sudden adherence to being honest is unappreciated by his friends. Funny, poignant and beautiful, the film is driven by Servillo's masterful performance, as he's able to convey Jep's regret, cynicism and hope with a lightly humorous touch that makes him endearing and his journey worth taking. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). 2014 Oscar winner, best foreign language film. Not rated. 142 minutes. ART.

HAUTE CUISINE (2012). (Starts Thursday, March 20). 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 Mitterand 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.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. (Saturday and Sunday). A young Viking (Jay Baruchel) befriends a dragon despite the ongoing war between his village and dragons and tries to engineer peace before an apocalyptic battle occurs. Loose adaptation of a popular children's novel. Very engaging, impressive CGI animation with exhilarating and dizzying flight scenes and an interesting, unusual emphasis on characters with disabilities. 4 stars (Richard J. Leskosky). Rated PG. 98 minutes. PRI.

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. PRI, SAV.

METROPOLITAN OPERA: WERTHER. (Opens Saturday). Presented live on Saturday; encore performance Wednesday. Two of opera's greatest artists — Jonas Kaufmann and Elina Garanca — appear together for the first time at the Met in Massenet's sublime adaptation of Goethe's revolutionary and tragic romance. It is directed and designed by Richard Eyre and Rob Howell, the same team that created the Met's recent hit production of "Carmen." Rising young maestro Alain Altinoglu conducts. 195 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. SAV.

MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012). (Starts Sunday). Wes Anderson's delightful love story follows the adventures of Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who run away together, upset over the fact that none of the adults in their lives understand them. Members of the search party that forms to find them end up revealing their true natures while looking, leading many of them to re-evaluate their lives. Sweet and altogether romantic in an innocent way often not found in movies, this is Anderson's most genial and pure feature as it lacks his usual brand of cynicism. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 94 minutes. ART.

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, NOR, SAV.

THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979). (Starts Friday). Kermit and the Muppet gang head to Hollywood to pursue their dreams of stardom. However, our green hero must escape a restaurant owner with a penchant for frog legs. Looking back today from our digital world, there's an innocence at play here in the way the film's special effects are executed that's a wonder to behold. The trademark Muppet humor is intact, the Oscar-nominated song "The Rainbow Connection" is sung and Kermit rides a bike in a scene that still inspires wonder. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated G. 98 minutes. ART.

NEED FOR SPEED. (Opens Friday). 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 in order 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. AMC, SAV.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). (Starts Friday). Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece of adventure is also the beginning of the modern action film. Cary Grant, at his most suave and debonair, is advertisement executive Roger Thornhill, who is mistaken for a government agent, and before you know it, foreign spies are on his tail, looking for a piece of microfilm they think he has. The adventure has Thornhill traveling from New York City to Mount Rushmore with stops in Chicago and a cornfield in Indiana along the way. The famous crop-dusting sequence, some suggestive flirting between the mysterious Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and Thornhill on a train, the thrilling climax atop Mount Rushmore as well as Hitchcock's dark sense of humor all contribute to make this a classic. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Not Rated. 135 minutes. ART.

THE QUIET MAN (1952). John Ford won his fourth best director Oscar for this romantic tale of an American boxer (John Wayne) haunted by his past who returns to the Irish village of his birth to live out the rest of his days in obscurity. But he falls in love with a fiery lass (Maureen O'Hara) who turns his world upside down. This lovingly rendered tale of all things Irish may be dated in its view of marriage, but its robust humor and broadly drawn characters help make it a classic. The film not only features one of Wayne's best performances but perhaps the most passionate, sexy kiss in film history. 4 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Not rated. 129 minutes. NOR.

ROBOCOP. This remake of the 1987 sci-fi classic takes place in the near future in Detroit, where a critically injured police officer (Joel Kinnaman) is turned into a cyborg that's programmed to combat crime on the mean streets of Motor City. This is a worthy update as the technology that's developed since the first film makes the protagonist a far more formidable character while much more time is spent exploring the moral implications of melding men with machines. 31/2 stars (Chuck Koplinski). Rated PG-13. 108 minutes. SAV.

ROYAL BALLET: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY. (Thursday, March 20). Perrault's beloved fairy tale, "The Sleeping Beauty," is imbued with wonder and excitement in this sumptuous ballet. Exquisite costumes by Franca Squarciapino and spectacular sets by the celebrated Italian art director Ezio Frigerio provide a brilliant visual feast. The tale of an ill-fated princess played by American Sarah Lamb, an enchanted sleep and the magical power of a prince's kiss is brought to life through Tchaikovsky's incomparable score. 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. AMC, SAV.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. In this sequel to the 2006 blockbuster, Admiral Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) must marshal his fleet in order 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.

TYLER PERRY'S THE SINGLE MOMS CLUB. (Opens Friday). Brought together by an incident at their children's school, a group of single mothers from different walks of life bond and form a support group to help one another overcome their personal challenges. With Nia Long, Amy Smart, Cocoa Brown and Terry Crews. Written and directed by Tyler Perry. (Los Angeles Times). PG-13. Rated PG-13. 111 minutes. AMC, SAV.

WOLF. (Monday). "Wolf" is Deke Weaver's third performance in his lifelong project, The Unreliable Bestiary — a performance for each letter of the alphabet, each letter represented by an endangered species or habitat. The live event distills the sprawling 2013 piece into a one-man presentation — part live performance, part cinematic documentation. Not rated. 75 minutes. ART.

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