(Click on title to see trailer)
What If **½ Directed by Michael Dowse. Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall. Wallace (Radcliffe), who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry (Kazan), who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life. If you can suspend your incredulity for a moment, What If has its bright moments. And that’s thanks in large part to its leads, who manage to do what Radcliffe has always done well: conjure up a little magic.
War Story ** Directed by Mark Jackson. Catherine Keener, Ben Kingsley, Hafsia Herzi. After being held hostage in Libya, a war photographer struggles to cope with post traumatic stress syndrome and takes some time off to heal in Sicily, where she tries to help a Tunisian immigrant who desperately needs an abortion. Jackson’s direction strips much of the urgency from any character’s grasp by insisting that their dilemmas can only be revealed with stone-faced austerity.
The Giver ** Directed by Phillip Noyce. Jeff Bridges, Merly Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift. In a future society called The Community, pain, war and disease have been eradicated, as have individuality and free will. When a teenager learns the truth about the real world, he must decide whether to reveal all or remain quiet. While the adult performances are strong, especially Bridges in the title role, youthful characterizations are not nearly as illuminating as they were on the page.
The November Man *½ Directed by Roger Donaldson. Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey. An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect. A humorless, muddled, bloody and generally unpleasant thriller.
The Expendables 3 *½ Directed by Patrick Hughes. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes. Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Expendables square off against a villainous arms trader who’s hell-bent on destroying the team. The Expendables 3 is silly and overblown and it could definitely do without Banderas’ motor-mouth routine (not to mention an out-of-nowhere reference to Benghazi), but it’s less silly and overblown than The Expendables 2, for whatever that’s worth.
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas * Directed by Tyler Perry. Seeking to impress their daughter’s well-heeled beau with a lavish Christmas shindig, a snooty couple deprives their maid of her holiday. But things don’t go as planned when the housekeeper’s family shows up. An exceptionally poor piece of holiday cash-in product, rushed and ungainly even by the low standard set by Perry’s seven previous Madea films.