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REVIEW: Mesmerizing 'Teenage' Rebels Against Traditional Documentary Form

It’s hard to reconcile, considering the degree to which adolescents now dominate popular culture, but the idea of the teenager is a uniquely 20th-century invention, born out of advances in psychological theory, changes in child-labor laws and a boom in leisure-time activities for the under-20 set. A feat of both editing and blurring-of-the-edges nonfiction technique, Matt Wolf’s mesmerizing, scrapbook-style Teenage conveys the transition in how the world perceived this emerging in-between stage via a series of first-person portraits of exceptional individuals set amid a whirlwind of vintage footage. Ironically, the demo in question seems least likely to appreciate the pic’s arty, innovative approach. more »

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REVIEW: 'The Big Wedding' Is Not Fat, Greek, Original − Or Funny

Let’s face it: The Big Wedding was more fun when it was fat and Greek — or loud and French, in the case of this adaptation of Gallic laffer Mon frere se marie. Writer-director Justin Zackham awkwardly blends feel-good pablum and raunchy sex jokes with the expected nuptial ingredients: something old (just look at that cast), something new (the groom is an adopted Colombian with three moms to manage), something borrowed (Nancy Meyers called, she wants her ideas back) and something blue (handjobs at the rehearsal dinner, etc.). It’s all catnip for the easily pleased, suggesting possible sleeper success amid louder early-summer studio fare.

Skewing older than other recent R-rated wedding comedies such as Bridesmaids and Bachelorette, The Big Wedding  all but ignores the happy couple in favor of the “bigger” sixtysomething names in its starry ensemble: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon. As in Jean-Stephane Bron’s 2007 original, the grownups’ childish antics threaten to upset the whole event.

Misleading title aside, young Missy and Alejandro’s union is a relatively small affair, held in the groom’s backyard and consisting of only about 100 guests. The vanilla bride (Amanda Seyfried, who’s been down this road before in Mamma Mia!) and her swarthy husband-to-be (British actor Ben Barnes, Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia series) have known each other since childhood. What makes their engagement interesting is the fact that Alejandro was born in Colombia and raised by an upscale Connecticut couple with two kids of their own.

Naturally, Alejandro wants his birth mother, Madonna (Patricia Rae), to attend, but he doesn’t have the nerve to tell the conservative Catholic woman that his adoptive parents, Don and Ellie Griffin (De Niro and Keaton, a million miles from The Godfather: Part II), have been divorced for the past decade. Instead, he begs Don to stash his new g.f., Bebe (Sarandon), and pretend that everything’s still rock-solid between him and Ellie — the sort of arrangement that must seem all too familiar to The Birdcage star Robin Williams (unusually restrained as the ceremony’s Irish priest).

Surely The Big Wedding’s paucity of genuinely inspired moments is due less to Williams’ involvement than its other officiant, Zackham, who has captured the bright, hyper-sunny look of Nora Ephron and David Frankel movies (simply by using d.p. Jonathan Brown) without grasping those helmers’ gift for comedy. The film isn’t so much funny as it is merely amusing — a laundry list of inappropriate and potentially embarrassing moments that strive mightily, but never quite manage to land the laugh.

The awkward situations begin with Ellie’s arrival at her former home. Letting herself in, she accidentally walks in on Don going down on Bebe (who was once Ellie’s best friend and, evidently, still manages to excite the man she stole 10 years earlier). After the three grownups agree to Alejandro’s charade, Ellie turns the tables, enjoying a 40-minute morning-sex session loud enough to convince not only Madonna but everyone else within a two-mile radius that she and Don are still compatible.

Meanwhile, the Griffins’ two biological children show up with plenty of their own issues. Lyla (a high-strung Katherine Heigl) has just broken up with her long-time b.f., has unexplained barfing spells and faints at the sight of a maternity ward. You don’t have to be an obstetrician to recognize the symptoms, though her slow-on-the-uptake brother Jared (Topher Grace) inexplicably diagnoses her as having a mild concussion. Unlike the rest of his hot-blooded family, Jared has sworn to wait for sex until marriage, but at 29, he’s having second thoughts — and the first available female to cross his path is sister-by-adoption Nuria (Ana Ayora), who stayed behind in Colombia when Alejandro moved to the States.

In the French version of such a scenario, one wouldn’t be surprised by the ensuing sexual antics, but all that rumpy-pumpy seems rather inappropriate in the remake’s upper-crust East Coast milieu. Presenting De Niro’s character as a recovering-alcoholic sculptor only goes so far to explain his licentious nature: He turns up drunk in one scene, reveals all the family secrets, and then sobers up immediately. Otherwise, he’s the pic’s go-to guy for delivering too-eloquent speeches, which occur with regularity whenever the script requires a heart-tugging moment. Such emotional ploys come more naturally to Zackham (who hit it big with The Bucket List script) than comedy does, offering a much-needed dose of charm to the otherwise formulaic festivities.

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REVIEW: 'Iron Man 3' Proves Its Mettle Despite Symptoms Of Franchise Fatigue

The third time is neither a particular charm nor the kiss of death for Marvel Studios robust Iron Man series, which has changed studios (from Paramount to Disney) and directors (Shane Black subbing for Jon Favreau) but otherwise toyed little with the formula that has so far generated more than $1.2 billion in global ticket sales. The inevitable franchise fatigue ― plus a markedly unmemorable villain ― may account for the feeling that Iron Man 3 is more perfunctory and workmanlike than its two predecessors, but this solid production still delivers more than enough of what fans expect to earn its weight in box office metal. more »

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TRIBECA REVIEW: 'Mistaken For Strangers' − Sibling Rivalry Plays Out On The National's Stage

Mistaken for Strangers, a documentary about indie group the National, comes off like an exercise in self-deprecation. As much a diary film as a rockumentary, it almost compulsively veers away from its ostensible subject, the band’s world tour, probing the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his kid brother Tom (who helmed the film) as though worrying a sore tooth.  It remains ambiguous to what extent the director’s screen persona, which raises schlubbiness to an art form, is legit.  But with its wry humor and fantastic mix of music and images, this seemingly odd choice for Tribeca’s opening-nighter could carve out a solid theatrical niche.   more »

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TRIBECA: Steph Green's 'Run And Jump' Has Get Up And Go (And 'SNL' Alum Will Forte)

In helmer Steph Green’s debut feature, Run and Jump, a family must adjust to life with father  specifically, a father who has suffered brain damage from a stroke, and who returns home with a camera-toting medical researcher in tow.  The wife of the stroke victim  an extraordinarily vibrant, red-haired mother of two and a warm, coaxing hostess to the uptight researcher  helps the household accommodate the strangers in its midst. Skirting traumatic turmoil, Run discovers reserves of strength and joie de vivre that could prove irresistible to European and American auds. more »

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REVIEW: Michael Bay's Physically Punishing 'Pain & Gain' Is 'Fargo' By Way Of The Three Stooges

The large-scale destructiveness he has previously wrecked upon public and private property (including entire cities), Michael Bay visits on the human body in Pain & Gain, a pulverizing steroidal farce based on a bizarre-but-true kidnapping-and-murder case. Suggesting Fargo by way of the Three Stooges, Bay’s latest certainly proves that the Transformers auteur does have something more than jacked-up robots on his mind: specifically, jacked-up muscle men who will stop at nothing to achieve their deeply twisted notion of the American dream. With a very fine ensemble cast recruited to play an array of overtly despicable characters, this unapologetically vulgar, sometimes quite funny, often stomach-churning bacchanal will surely prove too extreme for great swathes of the multiplex crowd. But the marquee value of topliners Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, plus the pic’s reportedly modest $25 million pricetag, spells more gain than pain for Paramount’s box office pecs. more »

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REVIEW: Rob Zombie's 'The Lords Of Salem' Doesn't Deliver The Shiver

Less inferno than slow burn, Rob Zombie’s retro witch thriller The Lords of Salem has plenty of portent but not much payoff. Likely to disappoint die-hard fans of The Devil’s Rejects and other Zombie atrocities, this milder brew still has ’70s-esque style to spare and sports a likable lead perf by Sheri Moon Zombie as a DJ seemingly spun by Satan’s spawn into the lower depths. Theatrical play will pale beside the pic’s ancillary afterlife, although “Lords” isn’t potent enough to rule in either realm. more »

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REVIEW: 'Antiviral' − Brandon Cronenberg's Piercing (And Icky) Look At Celebrity Obsession

Possibly setting a record for most images of needles piercing human skin in a motion picture, Brandon Cronenberg’s syringe-tastic Antiviral suggests the fledgling filmmaker has some corporeal-horror preoccupations in common with famous dad David.  Set in an icy near-future where celebrities’ diseases are sold like crack vials, this creepy speculative satire tends to hit the same notes in its dissection of seriously unhealthy celebrity obsession, but exerts a queasy fascination regardless. Overlong Canadian production may prove too clinically distanced for gorehounds and too yucky for specialty auds, though the Cronenberg imprimatur is sure to stir theatrical interest. more »

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REVIEW: Visually Stunning 'Oblivion' Looks Like A Live-Action 'Wall-E'

Although Universal’s publicity department has asked that journalists refrain from spilling the secrets of Oblivion, the major revelations, once they arrive, will hardly surprise anyone familiar with Total Recall, The Matrix and the countless other sci-fi touchstones hovering over this striking, visually resplendent adventure. Pitting the latest action-hero incarnation of Tom Cruise against an army of alien marauders, director Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to Tron: Legacy is a moderately clever dystopian mindbender with a gratifying human pulse, despite some questionable narrative developments along the way. The less-than-airtight construction and conventional resolution may rankle genre devotees, though hardly to the detriment of robust overall B.O. more »

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REVIEW: 'Upstream Color' Is Thoreau-ly Avant Garde − And Hypnotic

As mystifying as his 2004 sci-fier, Primer, albeit for entirely different reasons, Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color is a stimulating and hypnotic piece of experimental filmmaking. It’s also a poem about pigs, a meditation on orchids, a cerebral-spiritual love story, an intensely elliptical sight-and-sound collage, and perhaps a free-form re-interpretation of Thoreau’s Walden. Surely the most challenging dramatic entry at Sundance this year, this unapologetically avant-garde work regards conventional narrative as if it were a not-especially-interesting alien species; the mainstream will take no notice, but adventurous auds are in for a strange and imaginative trip. more »

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REVIEW: 'The Host' Is Silly Soul-Sucking Fun

The teenage years can, don’t we all know, be an alienating experience, even when you don’t have an actual alien trapped inside your body. But such is the fate of the spirited young heroine of The Host, who finds that talking to boys and stuff is a whole lot harder when your soul is being sucked by one of the space invaders slowly wiping humankind from the face of the planet. This extravagantly silly but undeniably entertaining sci-fi soap opera — the latest adapted from the work of Mormon YA-lit phenom Stephenie Meyer — should prove shrewd distaff counterprogramming to G.I. Joe: Retaliation, posting solid (if less-than-Twilight-sized) numbers at home and other points throughout the galaxy. more »

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REVIEW: Meatheaded 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' Should Be Titled 'Regurgitation'

Offering a more straight-faced brand of idiocy than its cheerfully dumb 2009 predecessor, G.I. Joe: Retaliation might well have been titled G.I. Joe: Regurgitation, advertising big guns, visual effects and that other line of Hasbro toys with the same joyless, chew-everything-up-and-spit-it-out efficiency. Largely devoid of personality, apart from a few nifty action flourishes courtesy of helmer Jon M. Chu, Paramount’s late-March blockbuster, pushed back from a 2012 release (ostensibly to allow for a 3D conversion), may have trouble matching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’s $302 million worldwide gross. But with no shortage of merchandising and other cross-promotional opportunities, it should still score significant attention from targeted male viewers. more »

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REVIEW: 'The Croods' Can't Get Its Knuckles Off The Ground Thanks To Primitive Storytelling

Although state-of-the-art in its rendering of textures, movement and stereography, DreamWorks’ latest 3D toon, The Croods, adopts a relatively primitive approach to storytelling with its Flintstonian construction of stock, ill-fitting narrative elements. Part family adventure story, part romance and part eye-popping thrill ride, this tale of a prehistoric family seeking a new home in a dangerous and geologically volatile environment won’t have the broad appeal of DreamWorks’ Shrek and Kung Fu Panda pics, or Fox’s own B.C.-era Ice Age franchise. But it should prove a solid earner after its March 22 release in a frame relatively free of rival predators. more »

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REVIEW: Who Needs North Korea? 'Olympus Has Fallen' Hijacked By Lousy Bulgarian CGI

A North Korean terrorist may be responsible for taking the president hostage, but it’s Bulgarian-made CGI that does the most damage in Antoine Fuqua’s intense, ugly, White-House-under-siege actioner Olympus Has Fallen. Cut past the pic’s superficial patriotism, and the message is ironically clear: Never outsource your visual effects when a domestic shop will do. Courageously representing the human element in this mostly digital assault on American soil, Gerard Butler holds his own as a one-man-army. Millennium was wise to push this grim act-of-war movie out three months ahead of Columbia’s like-minded White House Down.

In June, auds will see how Roland Emmerich, whose Independence Day gleefully made things go boom at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., handles the task today. For the moment, the post-9/11 memory of real attacks on American targets still hits a bit too close to home. And though Hollywood’s jaunty disaster-movie days may have passed, this lower-budget entry comes with the satisfaction of evening the score before end credits roll.

Olympus Has Fallen helmer Fuqua, who’s known for bringing an unflinching toughness to inner cities (Training Day) and ancient history (King Arthur), sticks to the Die Hard model here, minus most of the tossed-off one-liners. In ex-Special Forces pro Mike Banning, Butler presents a gritty but humorless hero who cusses, bleeds and occasionally pauses to remove shards of glass from his wounds.

To raise the personal stakes, Creighton Rothenberger’s script opens with a prologue in which Banning saves the life of President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart, who looks the part of a Wall St.-friendly commander in chief), but fails to protect the First Lady (Ashley Judd) — a tragedy that leaves the redemption-seeking secret service agent reassigned to desk duty.

Banning’s chance to square the books with Asher arrives when heavily armed guerillas swarm the White House, led by the undercover Kang (Die Another Day’s Rick Yune). While a massive CG warplane flies low over D.C., gunning down pedestrians and blasting the top off the Washington Monument, turncoat Forbes (Dylan McDermott) helps Kang and his men take the president and his top staffers (including Melissa Leo’s unyielding Secretary of Defense) captive in the White House’s underground safe room.

Hokey glimpses of tourists attempting to outrun blocks of falling granite make the lo-fi effects of an earlier era look realistic by comparison. As pedestrians run for cover or die in the crossfire, Banning makes his way into the fray, searching for the president’s missing son (Finley Jacobson) before worrying about the kidnapped world leaders.

With Asher incapacitated and his veep brutally executed before the eyes of the military’s top brass, the shot-calling role falls to the Speaker of the House, played by Morgan Freeman, an actor with experience at holding the reins of power, having occupied the Oval Office in Deep Impact. Freeman demonstrates due gravitas, steeling his nerves with a strong cup of coffee while the small army of character actors around him hang their heads in desperation.

Fuqua’s widescreen approach — which offers ample room for all that vidgame-quality CG — relishes such cornball iconography, featuring shots of the American flag pierced with bullets, or tumbling slowly to the ground against a flame-red sunset, while Trevor Morris’ drum-corps score keeps things sounding duly martial. Banning earns well-deserved cheers for using a heavy bust of Lincoln’s head to bust in a baddie’s noggin.

Though not as exciting as the White House-storming seventh season of 24, the high-concept project alternates between brawny action movie and crudely considered “what if” scenario. Despite the pic’s one-on-many focus, Fuqua approaches it as a full-blown war movie, incorporating the military’s latest toys into large-scale shootouts between squads of anonymous opponents.

Sadly, those crude Bulgarian-rendered effects aren’t much more convincing than the recent White-House-in-the-crosshairs propaganda videos pouring out of North Korea. Butler brings things back to a more practical level, as his butt-kicking hero shoots, stabs and punches his way through to the commander-in-distress, only to face off against a foreign-rigged computer program in the final scene. Figures.

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REVIEW: Danny Boyle Plays Mind Games With Moviegoers In Beyond-Belief 'Trance'

“Everyone knows amnesia is bollocks,” snarls one of the thugs in Trance. Hypnotism, on the other hand, is fair game in this brash, beyond-belief psychothriller from director Danny Boyle, who seizes on a script co-written by Joe Ahearne and longtime Boyle collaborator John Hodge as a chance to play elaborate mind games with fans of his early work. A trippy variation on the dream-within-a-dream movie, Boyle’s return-to-form crimer constantly challenges what auds think they know, but neglects to establish why they should care. The pic’s flashy style, plus its stark violence and nudity, ought to transfix male genre auds. more »