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Capsule reviews of feature films


This news story was published on September 21, 2012.
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The Philadelphia Inquirer –

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY 3 1/2 stars. Philadelphia journalist Alison Klayman’s winning film debut is a transformative documentary about China’s most famous artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, who gained international attention when he helped design the spectacular Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics, then called for a boycott of the event. His relentless, aggressive efforts to uncover governmental malfeasance lead to his sudden arrest and mysterious 81-day confinement in 2011. 1 hr. 31 R (mature themes, mild violence, disturbing images of earthquake victims) — Tirdad Derakhshani

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 1/2 stars. Competent but hardly necessary reboot, with 3-D bells and whistles, of the still-familiar franchise starring the smart-talking, web-slinging, thug-busting teenager with the serious spider bite. Andrew Garfield, spindly and full of twitchy angst, is the new Peter Parker, aka Spidey, Emma Stone is his very blond high school lust object, and Rhys Ifans is the mad scientist who morphs into The Lizard. Essentially a teenage identity crisis love story, piled on with millions of dollars’ worth of CGI effects and skyscraper-scaling thugfests. 2 hrs. 16 PG-13 (intense action, adult themes) — Steven Rea

ARBITRAGE 3 stars. Slick and suspenseful financial-world thriller, with Richard Gere as a hedge fund king whose world is collapsing under the weight of a huge accounting scam and a fatal car accident and its coverup. With Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Nate Parker and Laetitia Casta. 1 hr. 40 R (sex, profanity, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD 4 stars. Benh Zeitlin’s intensely strange and wonderful film, about a girl named Hushpuppy, her defiant but deathly ill father, and the ragged Louisiana delta community they inhabit is dreamlike and full of grand emotional swells. Moviemaking as outsider art. 1 hr. 31 PG-13 (intense imagery, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

BELOVED 3 1/2 stars. A swirling, decades-spanning romance where the actors — Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve — walk and talk just like in real life, and then suddenly break into song — expressing their deepest worries and desires to the buoyant backbeat of some bouncy pop rock. A charming, melancholic, musical from France’s Christophe Honoré. 2 hrs. 15 No MPAA rating (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE BOURNE LEGACY 3 stars. Jeremy Renner stars in the momentum-driven “Bourne” spinoff, a thriller that dispenses with the hero’s amnesia issues and that is less about star power than the power of an epically staged action sequence. (Lots of them!) With Rachel Weisz as a brilliant biochemist, and Edward Norton barking orders back at HQ. Smart, relentless, suspenseful, fun. 2 hrs. 05 PG-13 (profanity, violence, intense action, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE CAMPAIGN 2 stars. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis star in intermittently amusing but mostly interminable political comedy about candidates vying for a Congressional seat — and the scandals, mud-slinging and baby-punching that ensues. 1 R (sex, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

A CAT IN PARIS 3 stars. Nominated for best animated feature at the 2012 Oscars, this gorgeously rendered caper follows a cat, a cat burglar, a gang of gangsters, a police detective and her little daughter as they chase around the City of Light. An engaging, exciting, charming caper for kids and adults. 1 hr. 09 PG (cartoon violence) — Steven Rea

CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER 3 1/2 stars. Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg co-star in this offbeat comedy about events that either will drive a wedge between a separated couple or further reinforce their bond. 1 hr. 31 R (drug use, profanity, sexual candor) — Carrie Rickey

COMPLIANCE 3 1/2 stars. A fast-food restaurant manager is persuaded to perform an invasive investigation of one of her employees by a phone caller claiming to be a police officer. 1 hr. 30 R (mature themes, nudity, profanity, sexual humiliation, mild violence) — Tirdad Derakhshani

CROOKED ARROWS 3 stars. An American Indian high school lacrosse team battles opponents from prep schools in their push to win a state tournament. 1 hr. 40 PG (suggestive references) — Gary Thompson

DARK HORSE 3 stars. Todd Solondz’ latest suburban chamber of horrors is a wonderfully realized and surprisingly understated dark satire, an odd — and, at times, oddly endearing — love story between rude, obese, unlikable Abe and narcissistic, depressive Miranda. 1 hr. 24 No MPAA rating (mature themes, profanity) — Tirdad Derakhshani

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES 3 stars. The labyrinthine plotlines will drive you batty, and the new villain, Bane, is a muscled-up mug with a Darth Vader wheeze, but so what? Christopher Nolan’s gargantuan, gravitas-soaked Bat-trilogy ends in a spectacular display of action and Bat-gizmo cool, and Anne Hathaway’s cat burglar Selina Kyle, all lips and legs, brings a much-needed spark to Christian Bale’s baleful eyes. With Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman returning, and Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt joining the Gotham City throng. 2 hrs. 44 PG-13 (violence, intense action, adult themes) — Steven Rea

EASY MONEY 3 1/2 stars. A great gangster pic from Sweden, with Joel Kinnaman (Holder in “The Killing”) as an economics major from the sticks trying to insinuate himself into the moneyed Stockholm crowd — and hatching an ingenious scheme to launder drug money to pay his way. A sinister scrum of Albanians, Bosnians, Russians, and Serbs complicates things, big time. 2 hrs. 04 R (violence, drugs, sex, adult themes) — Steven Rea

EXIT STRATEGY 2 stars. Incompatibility becomes a relationship stumbling block after an evicted man moves in with his girlfriend of three months in this micro-budget romantic comedy from Philly native son, actor-writer Jameel Saleem. 1 hr. 16 No MPAA rating (mature themes) — Tirdad Derakhshani

THE EXPENDABLES 2 2 stars Sly, Jason, Arnold, and the rest of the big galoots are back for more action against really bad guys. 1 hr. 42 R (vulgar language, heavy violence, gore) — David Hiltbrand

FOOTNOTE 4 stars. The rivalry between father- and-son Talmudic scholars spins into a moral and ethical whirlwind when one is honored with a huge prize, in this brilliant tragicomedy from Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar. Nominated for the foreign-language Academy Award. 1hr.43 PG (adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD 3 1/2 stars. The past and the present, ancient laws and modern longings, collide in this satisfying, psychologically complex tale of a teenager caught in a blood feud in craggy modern-day Albania. From the director of “Maria Full of Grace.” 1hr.49 No MPAA rating (violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

HIT & RUN 1 1/2 stars. It’s a merry chase as a couple (Kristen Bell and Zac Shepard) are pursued by a screwball posse, including Tom Arnold and a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper in this chintzy but sometimes cute comedy. 1 hr. 33 R (pervasive profanity, nudity, adult themes, drug content) — David Hiltbrand

HOPE SPRINGS 2 1/2 stars. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a long-wed couple in David Frankel’s self-help seriocomedy about marriage. The question is not, can this marriage be saved, but how. I cringed, I cried, I cracked up. 1 hr. 39 PG-13 (sexual candor) — Carrie Rickey

THE IMPOSTER 4 stars. Brilliant documentary about a young Frenchman who convinces a Texas family that he is their long-lost son. 1 hr. 39 R (mature themes including pedophilia and other sexual abuse, profanity, smoking) — Tirdad Derakhshani

THE INTOUCHABLES 2 1/2 stars. A feel-good buddy movie from France, about a wealthy quadraplegic and the streetwise ex-con hired to be his caregiver. Culture clashes, car chases and a meaningtful friendship ensue. 1 hr. 48 R (profanity, drugs, adult themes) — Steven Rea

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI 3 1/2 stars. This documentary portrait of Jiro Ono, proprietor of a 10-seat sushi bar in a Tokyo subway station, is a beautiful meditation on work, on life, on seeking perfection in things big and small. 1hr.22 PG — Steven Rea

KILLER JOE 3 stars. Trailer trash noir by way of playwright Tracy Letts and director William Friedkin. Matthew McConaughey has the title role, playing a black-clad Dallas cop who moonlights as a hit man. And when a couple of numbskulls want somebody dead, he’s their man. With Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church. Twisted stuff. 1 hr. 42 NC-17 (nudity, profanity, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

LAWLESS 3 stars. Based on the true story of the Bondurant brothers, who made moonshine, money and their own mythology in Prohibition-era Virginia. A beautifully crafted, grand yet intimate bootlegging saga, with Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce and Jessica Chastain. 1 hr. 50 R (violence, profanity, sex, adult themes) — Steven Rea

MAGIC MIKE 2 1/2 stars. Channing Tatum stars as a male stripper who has real feelings, too, in Steven Soderbergh’s odd and entertaining mix of backstage melodrama, indie verite and “Showgirls” kitsch. With Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn and Olivia Munn. 1 hr. 50 R (nudity, sex, profanity, drugs, violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

MONSIEUR LAZHAR 3 1/2 stars. The French Canadian foreign-language Oscar nominee is a beautifully observed study of the relationship between a teacher and his students, as a gentle, tradition-bound Algerian emigre inherits a classroom of Montreal preteens in the wake of a terrible tragedy. The learning process will have to go both ways. 1 hr. 34 PG-13 (adult themes) — Steven Rea

MOONRISE KINGDOM 4 stars. Wes Anderson returns to live-action after his stop-motion experiment “Fantastic Mr. Fox, but there are more similarities than differences in this wonderful, wistful tale of twelve-year-old lovers on the run. With Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the kids, and Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton as the grownups. You figure out who’s more mature. 1 hr. 34 PG-13 (adult themes) — Steven Rea

PEOPLE LIKE US 2 1/2 stars. Alternately absorbing and maddening L.A. melodrama, about a wheeling, dealing son returning home to deal with his deceased dad’s affairs — only to discover that one of those affairs resulted in an illegitimate daughter. She’s 30 now, and played by Elizabeth Banks as a single mom. He’s a few years younger, played by Chris Pine. With Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde, and Michael Hall D’Addario as the troubled middle-schooler kid. 1 hr. 55 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE POSSESSION 2 stars. A young girl comes into possession of an antique box that contains an evil spirit. Not one of Danish director Ole Bornedal’s (“Deliver Us from Evil) better efforts. 1 hr. 32 PG-13 (mature themes, terror, violence, muliple moth swarms) — Tirdad Derakhshani

PREMIUM RUSH 2 1/2 stars. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a New York bike messenger who picks up an envelope — and picks up a tail along with it: a crooked cop (Michael Shannon) who must have it, or else. Lots of stunt riding in this silly, serpentine chase pic, ehich can’t decide if it’s a serious, ticking-clock thriller or an antic, stunt-driven cartoon. 1 hr. 31 PG-13 (violence, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

ROBOT & FRANK 3 stars. A gentle, and gently funny character study, set “in the near future” and starring Farnk Langella as a retired cat burglar who begrudgingly lets a robot domestic helper into his life. 1 hr. 29 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

RUBY SPARKS 3 1/2 stars. Zoe Kazan stars in, and wrote, this ingenious fantasy romance, about a blocked-up novelist (Paul Dano) who starts tapping a few paragraphs about a dreamy girl on his typewriter, and then suddenly the dreamy girl moves into his house, his life. Whimsical, charming, but it’s more than that, too, examining the nature of relationships in darkly serious ways. With Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Steve Coogan and Ellliot Gould. 1 hr. 44 R (sex, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED 3 stars. Aubrey Plaza stars as a deadpan (of course) unpaid intern who tags along with a reporter looking for a guy who claims he can time travel. Sleuthing and slacker-ing — and some falling in love — ensues. 1 hr. 34 R (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SAVAGES 2 stars. Ham-fisted Oliver Stone tale of drugs, sex and murder, as a beautiful trio of Laguna Beach pot dealers (Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively) get seriously pushed around by a Mexican drug cartel and a crooked DEA agent. With Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek and John Travolta, based on the Don Winslow book. R (violence, profanity, drugs, sex, nudity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN 4 stars. A surprising, inspiring documentary about Rodriguez, a forgotten singer/ songwriter who recorded a pair of great and greatly overlooked albums in the early 1970s, and who — unbeknownst to him — became a star in South Africa, the apartheid nation cut off from the rest of the world. A beautiful, revelatory film, full of songs that sound like classics. 1 hr. 25 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SLEEPWALK WITH ME 3 1/2 stars. Mike Birbiglia’s off-Broadway show and bestselling book becomes a film, and a funny, accomplished one at that. The first-person account of a struggling standup comedian, wrestling with confidence issues, commitment issues and career issues — not to mention a bizarre sleep disorder that puts his physical well-being in jeopardy. With Lauren Ambrose, Carol Kane and Marc Maron. 1 hr. 31 R (profanity, sex, nudity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

SPARKLE 3 stars. A young woman (Jordin Sparks) and her sisters strive for musical fame in 1960s Detroit. The late Whitney Houston costars as the sisters’ single mother. 1 hr. 56 PG-13 (drugs, sexuality, domestic violence, profanity) — Carrie Rickey

STEP UP REVOLUTION 2 1/2 stars.The fourth installment in the popular dance movie series is set in a spicy Miami, introducing a conspiracy of creatives called the Mob, who hip-hop around stars Ryan Guzman and Kathryn McCormick. Spectacular group numbers truly pop in 3-D, but when you take the glasses off, things are hardly revolutionary. 1 hr. 37 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) — Hillary Rea

TAKE THIS WALTZ 3 stars. Michelle Williams is sad and beautiful as a Toronto freelance writer who falls for a charming artist who lives across the street. They’re a perfect couple, except for one thing: She’s already married. With Luke Kirby as the other man, and Seth Rogen as the cuckolded cookbook-writing spouse. 1 hr. 56 R (nudity, sex, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

TED 3 1/2 stars. Seth (“Family Guy”) MacFarlane’s ridicuously crude and inspired fable about a grown man and his talking plush toy — and the girl who wonders if there’s room for her in the relationship. With a straightfaced Mark Wahlberg as the laidback Beantown schmo, with Mila Kunis as his girlfriend, and MacFarlane voicing the title role. Cannabis-soaked, and crazy. 1 hr. 46 R (profanity, crude humor, drugs, sex, nudity, violence, adult theme) — Steven Rea

TO ROME WITH LOVE 2 1/2 stars. Woody Allen’s 46th (!) feature offers an episodic, rather than kaleidoscopic, view of the great Italian city, where disconnected storylines work themselves out (or not) against a guidebook backdrop of sun-burnished landmarks. With Alec Baldwin, Penélope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Davis and Allen himself. 1 hr. 42 R (sex, adult themes) — Steven Rea

TOTAL RECALL 2 1/2 stars. Colin Farrell goes mind-tripping in Len (“Underworld”) Wiseman’s efficient but one-dimensional reboot of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven sci-fi thriller, inwhich a factory worker gets memory implants and ends up being chased by robot cops and his wife (Kate Beckinsale), who turns out be very bad. With Jessica Biel as quite literally the girl of his dreams. 1 hr. 58 PG-13 (violence, adult themes) — Steven Rea

2016: OBAMA’S AMERICA 2 stars. Dinesh D’Souza’s slickly-packaged political documentary asks the question “If Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016?” and then posits some disturbing, if dubious, answers. PG (adult themes) — Steven Rea

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK 3 1/2 stars. Julie Delpy stars in — and wrote and directed — the sequel to her semi-autobiographical 2007 comedy “2 Days in Paris,” this time with a new spouse, played by Chris Rock, and a new city for the cultural and familial clashes to take place, and take off. Ridiculously funny, ridiculously charming. 1 hr. 31 R (nudity, profanity, sex, drugs, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE WATCH 2 stars. Four numbskull neighbors in a perfect little town form a neighborhood watch to find out who’s behind a string of ghoulish murders, only to uncover a plot that’s out of this world. With Ben Stiller, Ben Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade, who brings a bit of shaggy British charm to this sketchy comedy. 1 hr. 33 R (nudity, sex, violence, profanity, adult themes) — Steven Rea

THE WELL-DIGGER’S DAUGHTER 3 stars. This earthy throwback, a remake of the 1940 film by Marcel Pagnol, is a whiff of lavender borne by the bracing winds of the Mistral. The story about a laborer’s beautiful daughter romanced and abandoned by a shopkeeper’s handsome son marks the directorial debut of Daniel Auteuil, who also stars. 1 hr. 50 No MPAA rating (mature themes, discreetly handled) — Carrie Rickey

THE WORDS 3 stars. Bradley Cooper is a struggling writer who need struggle no more after delivering a remarkable manuscript to his publisher. A story within a story within a story, a series of life-altering coincidences, the kind of sweeping melodrama that belongs on Turner Classic Movies — this should all be creaking and squeaking, laughable. But amazingly it works, and resonates with real emotion. Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, and Olivia Wilde round out the very fine cast. 1 hr. 36 PG-13 (adult themes) — Steven Rea

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RATINGS:

4 stars: Excellent; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Fair; 1 star: Poor

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