Imagine “Inception.” Now imagine “Inception” with a C-list cast, obscure locations, and a visual effects effort similar to a PBS production from the 1980s. “The Speed of Thought” is yet another indie film too ambitious for its own good, constructing a psychological thriller without a proper budget, rendering the feature awkward and downright silly at times, despite an intriguing concept.
“Rio” doesn’t break new ground in terms of animated entertainment for families, but what it does it does very well. A musical romp boasting an explosion of colors and an energetic range of voice actors, “Rio” keeps to a minimal plan of villains and personal triumph, summoning a charming, booty-shaking carnival ambiance where a bunch of crazy birds (as opposed to the angry kind) participate in some 3D-inflated slapstick, adding to the riotous party atmosphere.
“The Conspirator” is a sumptuously shot depiction of a lesser-known moment in history. Taking place after President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the picture seeks to recreate hysteria and shady political dealings during a time of nationwide turbulence. Unfortunately, instead of mounting a crushing procedural picture filled with facts and figures, director Robert Redford elects for a more melodramatic route, turning all the accusations and disgust into a wobbly drama of limited emotional impact.
Time hasn’t been kind to the “Scream” franchise, with the original film’s novelty effectively scraped away by imitators, parodies, and sequels, diluting the position of pop culture powerhouse the 1996 film achieved. We’re up to “Scream 4” now, and it’s a completely unnecessary update/reboot/reheat that essentially rehashes previous pandemonium, deploying the same nudge-nudge self-referential screenwriting and graphic kills fans have come to expect and perhaps resent. It’s a tired, overstuffed, overlong picture that labors to revitalize a comatose concept. The scream has effectively become a yawn.
Writer/director Shana Feste aims to pattern her latest film, “Country Strong,” after the tragic love songs of the enduring musical genre. What she comes up with is far more clunky and unimaginative, scripting an intolerable Lifetime Movie-style excursion into the gloomy recesses of fame, making a complete fool out of a confident actress. “Country Strong” is excruciating to watch at times; a wholly embarrassing enterprise that renders country music insufferable, keeps Gwyneth Paltrow in an irritating state of teary distress, and makes one long for the same numbing cell of bottle-clutching isolation that alcoholism gifts to the lead character.
In a day and age when so many filmmakers lean on camp to pay tribute to the monster movies of old, “Monster Beach Party A-Go-Go” plays surprisingly straight. A valentine to the creature features of the 1960s, the film has an unexpectedly low-key presence, content to tinker with a few traditions and tug at some goofy genre habits, but refuses to squeal, accepting the challenge of recreating beach party horror with refreshing semi-seriousness.
“Heartless” exists purely in visual terms. It’s an art project not meant to be understood or interpreted, but merely gawked at, with the filmmaker in question, Philip Ridley, creating a swirling, vicious depiction of grief and madness, heading in abstract directions that are easily appreciated but rarely satisfying. It’s a wicked film with convincing nightmarish imagery, but there’s no story here to cling to, making this abyss of torment rather easy to disregard.
In 2003, Sofia Coppola wrote and directed the indie smash, “Lost in Translation.” An ode to pains of attraction and the loneliness of fame, the picture hit commanding emotional and stylistic chords as it established an enchanting sense of fading melancholy. “Somewhere” is an aesthetic cousin, again traveling through the glittery void with famous people sinking deeper than they realize, finding salvation in companionship and unspoken affections. As to be expected with a director essentially repeating herself, the results are considerably less poignant, with Coppola forgoing the challenge of developing emotional bonds to wallow in a tedious world of Hollywood superficiality.
One has to accept “The Resident” as it is, otherwise there’s just no fun to be had. A mindless horror/chiller that preys upon numerous single lady fears, the picture is generally well crafted and supplies a few satisfying jolts. Logic and editing aren’t the movie’s best friends, but accepted as a modest creep-out with a few semi-salacious touches and “The Resident” delivers the icks and scares, permitting star Hilary Swank a chance to relax her intense method approach and explore her lung power.
“I Love You Phillip Morris” is a tricky film to decipher. Garnering unnecessary attention for its homosexual content, the picture is actually more of a fleet-footed con artist valentine, paying reverence to a master of deception, Steven Jay Russell. A comedic excursion into the limits of personal freedom and the miracle of love, the picture is a skilled effort of constant surprise, led wonderfully by Jim Carrey, who gives a blessedly respectful performance that mingles pleasingly with laughs and shock.
“Hobo with a Shotgun” started life as a faux trailer used to help promote the 2007 release of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino extravaganza, “Grindhouse.” It probably should’ve remained as a kitschy, grimy celebration of scratchy B-movie promotion. Since iffy internet jokes never seem to die peacefully anymore, we now have a feature-length version of “Hobo with a Shotgun,” and the upgrade is mostly unbearable camp disguised as hip homage, splattered with enough blood and guts to distract from a cinematically empty reality, with director Jason Eisener declaring screen war without any notable scripted ideas.
Personally, I harbor no romantic feelings for the 1981 Dudley Moore sleeper smash, “Arthur.” Distractingly clunky, the feature is best appreciated as a film of its time, when a mainstream comedy could be built around the antics of monstrous alcoholic and still be regarded as adorable. It’s strange to be confronted with a remake of such beloved material, which still holds to a clownish boozehound mentality to acquire laughs, though much of the overt foam has been shaved away out of respect for the disease. Then again, Moore made “Arthur 2: On the Rocks,” so perhaps the character isn’t as precious as I recall. Remake away, boys.
“Your Highness” doesn’t have to be a smart comedy, but a little effort is always appreciated. A feast for the eyes, the picture doesn’t have much of a funny bone, electing to stage puerile stoner humor as a way to fully pants the sword and sorcery genre. The objective is clear as day, but that doesn’t make this parade of obscenities and sex jokes any funnier. And to think, director David Gordon Green was once a major force for independent cinema. Now he’s overseeing the fine details of a rubber Minotaur penis. Hooray for Hollywood.
“Oregon Trail: The Movie” is a crude way to describe “Meek’s Cutoff,” but it’s an apt comparison. Writer/director Kelly Reichardt endeavors to pull the viewer into the hardscrabble slog of the settler, crossing endless terrain with oxen and wagons, always on a desperate hunt for supplies and water. However, “Oregon Trail” was just a game with a reset function. “Meek’s Cutoff” is austere and unforgiving -- frankly, it’s as close to prairie reality as I care to get.
“13 Assassins” is like watching a protracted chess game with an exquisite final move. It’s a samurai tale of allegiances and vengeance, and while its violent, blood-spattered path is engrossing, the film makes a considerable effort to slow cook the set-up, making the road to death’s door something significant, moving away from empty stylistics to stage a film of icy warrior valor.
“Miral” is a film of many themes, characters, and stories, though it desires to be a singular vision of history. Chaotically arranged by director Julian Schnabel, the film is an uninvolving mess, though a thoughtfully composed jumble of emotions and time periods ambitiously reaching for a distressing screen poeticism it never achieves.
Currently, we’re in the throes of a Hollywood obsession to bring fairy tales to the big screen. It’s a fad that’s years away from peaking, leaving the sneaky triumph of “Hanna” all the more bewitching. It’s not exactly “Snow White” or “Alice in Wonderland,” but a weird, swirling amalgamation of the Grimm Brothers’ catalog, sharpened to Ginsu standards by the Euro sensibilities of director Joe Wright. Think of a fantastical storybook odyssey crossed with “The Bourne Identity,” and you’ll have a slightly accurate read of the moviegoing pleasures of this surreal, neck-snapping revenge escapade.
The idea of a motion picture built around the rehabilitation efforts of a chirpy teen, with pronounced Christian messages to boot, doesn’t exactly promise a searing portrait of determination at the edge of catastrophe. Thankfully, “Soul Surfer” has an astonishing event to work with, dramatizing the incredible true story of Bethany Hamilton, a 13-year-old girl who faced an unimaginable test of survival, surrounded by her loving family, her faith, and tasty waves beckoning the surfer girl back to the spot of her greatest misfortune.