Monday, August 31, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Mad Max: Fury Road **** Directed by George Miller. When Max (Tom Hardy) encounters a group of refugees fleeing for their lives, he joins them and their fiery leader (Charlize Theron). Wild and unrelenting, but also possessed of the outlandish poetry, laced with hints of humor, that rises to the surface when the world is all churned up.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me ***½ Directed by James Keach. As he struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, singer Glen Campbell embarks on his farewell tour in the United States, Australia, and Europe. Valedictory and elegiac, Keach’s film captures a performer who only truly seems to inhabit himself during the performances.

Five Star *** Directed by Keith Miller. With his father dead from a gunshot, John (John Diaz), a teen tempted by thug life, looks to street veteran Primo (James "Primo"Grant), an ex-con trying to escape it. for life lessons. An intimate portrait, a slice-of-life that goes just far enough beyond the cliches to be fascinating.

I’ll See You in My Dreams *** Directed by Brett Haley. With her well-ordered life thrown out of balance by the death of her beloved canine companion, an aging widow (Blythe Danner) — who hasn’t dated in 20 years — unexpectedly finds herself involved with two very different men. Delicate and nuanced, with writing that rejects, or at least reshapes, the cliches of movies about people facing the glare of their sunset years.

Dior and I *** Directed by Frédéric Tcheng. Asked to fill the shoes of iconic designer John Galliano, Raf Simons is given two months to prepare his inaugural fashion collection for Christian Dior in this behind-the-scenes look at the high-pressure world of haute couture. For people already interested in fashion, the film’s appeal will be obvious, but this documentary deserves to go beyond a small target audience.

The Harvest *** Directed by John McNaughton. A couple (Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon) who keeps their sick son (Charlie Tahan) in a secluded environment find their controlled lives challenged by a young girl (Natasha Calis) who moves in next door. McNaughton’s return after too many years of absence is a dark look at the nature of overprotective parenthood, and how volatile it can become under particularly difficult circumstances. With that said, you’d do well not to take The Harvest too seriously but more, like its deliciously simple and 70s B-movie horror title suggests, as a wickedly fun time.

Good Kill **½ Directed by Andrew Niccol. A family man (Ethan Hawke) begins to question the ethics of his job as a drone pilot. Niccol’s film won’t likely achieve the high-flying box-office success of Top Gun, but it is similar to that 1986 film in that it will likely get people talking after the closing credits roll.

Backcountry **½ Directed by Adam MacDonald. An urban couple (Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop) go camping in the woods and find themselves lost in the territory of a predatory black bear. Just when you thought it was safe to stand up to a bear in the woods, this jarring indie horror drama will make you scurry back indoors.

Gemma Bovery **½ Directed by Anne Fontaine. Living in a Norman village when British couple Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Charlie Bovery (Jason Flemyng) settle nearby, urban exile Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) — a fan of the novel Madame Bovary — soon discovers that the pair’s name isn’t all they share with Gustave Flaubert’s novel. After a while, the film feels more like a cute conceit that hasn’t really been developed further. It’s intriguing, and very well-acted, but empty.

That Sugar Film **½ Directed by Damon Gameau. An experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body. Suffers from some of the usual stunt-documentary laziness. But Gameau builds his case well.

The D Train ** Directed by Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul. The head of a high school reunion committee (Jack Black) travels to Los Angeles to track down the most popular guy from his graduating class (James Marsden) and convince him to go to the reunion. A modestly funny, little bit dark, occasionally knowing, not entirely cynical comedy that, to the extent that it succeeds at all, does so thanks to Marsden.

The Decent One ** Directed by Vanessa Lapa. A documentary that uses a cache of letters, diaries and documents to reveal the life of SS-leader Heinrich Himmler. It’s perhaps too focused on Himmler’s personal life, while Lapa’s decision to add sound effects to silent images sometimes feels uncalled for.

Felt ** Directed by Jason Banker. A woman (Amy Everson) creates an alter ego in hopes of overcoming the trauma inflicted by men in her life. With predominantly improvised dialogue and performances, Felt gains scant narrative complexity from an over-reliance on a no-frills documentary style.

Boulevard ** Directed by Dito Montiel. A devoted husband (Robin Williams) in a marriage of convenience is forced to confront his secret life. Well-intentioned, but predictable and instantly dated.

The Suicide Theory ** Directed by Michael J. Kopiah. A suicidal man (Leon Cain) hires a demented killer to assist him in suicide, but for some reason, miraculously survives each attempt on his life. Although Kospiah’s script isn’t exactly predictable or didactic, it does feel contrived and improbable on occasion.

Extinction ** Directed by Miguel Angel Vivas. Visualizing a distant and hideous human future, this zombie-infested tale of horror follows three survivors of a viral holocaust who’ve managed to stay hidden for nearly a decade as everyone else on Earth turned into a monstrous mutant. Vivas tries to add a family-drama twist to an otherwise standard survival story, but the characters aren’t complex enough (and the secrets aren’t explosive enough) to elevate this beyond a basic zombie flick.

Dark Was the NightDirected by Jack Heller. An evil is unleashed in a small town when a logging company sets up shop in the neighboring woods. While its emphasis on character dynamics and a slow burn atmosphere is to be commended, the film is too derivative and familiar to make much of an impact.

The Face of an Angel Directed by Michael Winterbottom. A journalist and a documentary filmmaker chase the story of a murder and its prime suspect. The film does occasionally show a pulse when it tries to reimagine the life of the victim — it turns the tables on the mystery and tries to become a film about love and life instead of doom and death. But it’s too little, too late, and too lame.

7 Minutes Directed by Jay Martin. Three high school friends (Zane Holz, Luke Mitchell, Jason Ritter) are forced to commit a brazen robbery which quickly goes horribly wrong. An uninspired tale that abounds in clichés.

The Curse of Downers Grove * Directed by Derick Martini. Teen angst at a high school gripped by an apparent curse that claims the life of a senior every year. Although it’s being marketed as a horror film, it turns out to be something else — a messy hash of teen soap opera, stalker thriller and whatnot whose titular, possibly supernatural aspect is basically irrelevant.

Safelight * Directed by Tony Aloupis. A teenage boy (Evan Peters) and girl (Juno Temple) discover a renewed sense of possibility as they go on a road trip to photograph lighthouses along the California coast. First-time filmmaker Aloupis, formerly frontman of the New Jersey rock band Shadows of Dreams, serves up Americana like a stale slice of apple pie.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thinking of someone named Ingrid and someone named Linda

This being about the time of what would be Ingrid Bergman's 100th birthday got me to thinking of a time more than 30 years ago. I had been divorced for a little more than a year and friends kept telling me it was time to try to get back into some sort of social scene. My problem was and always has been that I am extremely awkward and shy when it comes to activities like that.

I had absolutely no intention of hanging out in bars trying to pick someone up -- my awkwardness and shyness also gave me a keen fear of rejection. But then I remembered this single parent who lived a couple of houses away from us while I was still married and how much I had enjoyed her company when she had visited our household. Not only that, but she was the spitting image of Ingrid Bergman, particularly the Ingrid Bergman character in Casablanca, which was then, as it is today, my all-time favorite movie.

The neighbor's name was Linda and I worked up the courage to call her. I asked her if she wanted to join me at a concert I was covering for the Dallas Morning News and I told her directly, for some reason, that I wasn't asking her as a friend, I was asking her as a date. To my great surprise, she said yes.

I don't recall how long we dated, but I definitely recall it was an intense, physical and emotional relationship that made me extremely happy. But it ended, at least for me, on a sad note. Just as we were about to go out on a Friday night date, she called me and said she had heard from my ex-wife (she was very close friends with her) who had discovered we were dating and very much objected to that. She told me that friendship was too valuable for her to lose and, although I could tell she was crying when she said it, she was not going to be able to see me any more. I was crushed.

It still makes me a tad melancholy whenever I think back on that brief, intense and wonderful relationship with Linda. I still think of her and our brief relationship quite fondly. But it also makes me a tad melancholy when I think that Hollywood bluebloods also ostracized the marvelous Ingrid Bergman for several years because of her personal relationships.

So, Linda (wherever you might be) and Ingrid, I'm drinking a Manhattan today and thinking of you.

Monday, August 24, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on the title to see the film’s trailer

Two Days, One Night **** Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. This is a small, compassionate gem of a movie, one that’s rooted in details of people and place but that keeps opening up onto the universal.

Citizenfour ***½ Directed by Laura Poitras. A documentary that follows Poitras’s 2013 journey to Hong Kong to meet with whistleblower Edward Snowden as he was preparing to release a wealth of classified government documents. Finds its strength in both the story and the telling: The information about government spying is chilling, of course, but the movie also gives us the opportunity to get to know the elusive Snowden.

Iris ***½ Directed by Albert Maysles. A documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel. Maysles endearingly reveals Apfel’s blend of blind passion and keen practicality, her unflagging enthusiasm for transmitting her knowledge to young people, and her synoptic view of fashion as living history.

Animals *** Directed by Collin Schiffli. While living near a Chicago zoo in their wreck of an auto, a drug-addicted young couple (David Dastmalchian, Kim Shaw) supports their habit through petty theft and hustling. There are a couple of things that make this movie effective, the main one being the performances of the two leads and the symbiotic relationship they create.

Big Game ** Directed by Jalmari Helander. A teenager camping in the woods helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite. There are parts of Escape From New York, Air Force One, Cliffhanger and countless Luc Besson movies strewn about. Big Game doesn’t stomp on their memory, but like an overenthusiastic fan, it does smother them with amateurish zeal.

Boychoir ** Directed by François Girard. A troubled and angry 11-year-old orphan (Garrett Wareing) from a small Texas town ends up at a Boy Choir school back East after the death of his single mom. It's a wonderful idea with good crowd-pleasing potential and, had the story-telling been more credible, this could have been a major coup for all concerned.

October Gale ** Directed by Ruba Nadda. A doctor (Patricia Clarkson) takes in a mysterious man (Scott Speedman) who washes ashore at her remote cottage with a gunshot wound. The action unwinds with the mechanical artifice of a creaky play, though Nadda creates a few strikingly cinematic moments.

Lila & Eve ** Directed by Charles Stone III. Two distraught mothers (Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez), whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action. Davis (who was an executive producer on the film) gives a strong performance, as if she were acting in one of those many prestige projects lighting up her resume. It’s a noble try, but this dreck is beyond saving.

Where Hope GrowsDirected by Chris Dowling. A baseball player (Kristoffer Polaha) whose professional career was cut short due to his personal problems is suddenly awakened and invigorated by a young-man with Down syndrome who works at the local grocery store. Once the proselytizing takes over, so does the predictability.

AlohaDirected by Cameron Crowe. A celebrated military contractor (Bradley Cooper) returns to the site of his greatest career triumphs and reconnects with a long-ago love (Rachel McAdams) while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watch-dog (Emma Stone) assigned to him. The movie isn’t horrible, but it does have a pitiable odor about it, like a dog that’s sat too long on the beach. Crowe aspires to Golden Age of Hollywood repartee, but something feels off, just as it did in Elizabethtown (2005) and We Bought a Zoo (2011). Everyone just seems to be trying too hard.

The RunnerDirected by Austin Stark. In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, an idealistic but flawed politician (Nicolas Cage) is forced to confront his dysfunctional life after his career is destroyed in a sex scandal. New Orleans makes for a distinctive backdrop, but that's really all just window dressing, and it goes only so far in covering the fact that this film — from its moody, electric-guitar-driven score to its faintly 1990s, Grisham-flavored sensibilities — runs out of narrative inspiration before it crosses the finish line.

Skin TradeDirected by Ekachai Uekrongtham. When his quest to bring down a gangster (Ron Perlman) costs a New York City cop (Dolph Lundgren) the lives of his family, all that matters to him is revenge. For a film so seemingly interested in educating audiences about the evils of sex trafficking that it provides horrific statistics at the conclusion, it has no compunction about including copious doses of female nudity.

After the Ball Directed by Sean Garrity. After a young fashion designer (Portia Doubleday) runs afoul of her corrupt stepmother and stepsisters, she dons a disguise to help save the family business for her father. This basic-cable-quality farce is as unobjectionable as it is unmemorable.

Monday, August 17, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Lambert & Stamp *** Directed by James D. Cooper. Documentary follows aspiring filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert as they search London's youth scene in the early 1960s for a subject for their new movie and wind up discovering and managing the rock band The Who. Gives the duo their due and in so doing opens up a singular view on an era, its energy, and its excesses. For fans, it’s a must-see; for others, a slightly overlong tour of a seminal pop explosion and the men who made it.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared **½ Directed by Felix Herngren. A man (Robert Gustafsson) caps off his long and colorful life by escaping from his nursing home on his 100th birthday. Despite the heavy themes, the film keeps the tone light. It is a comedy, after all. The laugh-o-meter needle hovers fairly consistently on "amused grin."

The Riot Club ** Directed by Lone Scherfig. When Miles Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Clafin) begin their studies at Oxford University, the notorious Riot Club wastes no time in recruiting them. But the night the pair attends the secret society's annual dinner, the group's rowdy antics take a vile turn. It’s a film that seems to have no further point than to remind us that some powerful jerks were once powerful jerk kids. Point taken, but it’s not cinematically satisfying.

5 to 7 ** Directed by Victor Levin. An aspiring young novelist (Anton Yelchin) finds his conservative beliefs about love and relationships tested when a chance encounter outside a New York City hotel leads to an intense affair with a French diplomat's beautiful wife (Bérénice Marlohe). The city doesn’t need to be real in a romantic movie, but the feelings must be. Although Levin tends to embrace clichés and overstatement (the novelist’s parents, Arlene and Sam, played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella, are straight out of Yiddish vaudeville), he can also surprise you with delicate touches, a pained look, a wince of recognition.

Strangerland Directed by Kim Farrant. A couple (Nicole Kidman, Josephj Fiennes) finds their dull life in a rural outback town rocked after their two teenage children disappear into the desert. Starts off promisingly enough, but it just can't decide where it wants to go, or even how to get there.

10 Cent PistolDirected by Michael C. Martin. After a series of successful and profitable robberies in Los Angeles, two brothers in crime suddenly run out of luck as they end up on the wrong side of a shady mob attorney and under surveillance by the police. The narration, about how you can either "finesse" your way out of a jam, or "Bogart your way through it," is drab. As are the performances. Especially the leads.

Little Boy * Directed by Alejandro Monteverde. An 8-year-old boy with developmental challenges is devastated when his devoted father — and lone friend — is drafted during World War II. It's all simplistic sermonizing, devoid of any thoughtful messiness about wartime mind-sets or family despair, and quick to sand any edges with postcard-pretty coastal town vistas and cutesy music cues.

The Seventh Dwarf Directed by Boris Aljinovic, Harald Sipermann. An animated adventure that follows young dwarf Bobo (Joshua Graham) and his pint-size pals as they aim to save the kingdom by searching for a way to awaken lovely Princess Rose (Peyton List) from a long slumber. At half the length or twice the budget, this CG-animated musical mash-up of fairy tales would still be a pretty pathetic excuse for children’s entertainment, short on charm and utterly devoid of magic.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Between now and then just let me dream

Come next November, I'm going to hold my nose and vote for a right-of-center woman for President of the United States only because she will be preferable to anyone the Republicans are offering. But in the meantime, let me have my fun, let me support this guy, and let me dream about how much better this world would be if he could be elected.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trumbo? Yes. Douglas? No

I'm a big fan of Dalton Trumbo, a writer who fought the good fight when that was difficult to do. And, judging from this trailer, it seems Bryan Cranston has nailed the part. But see if, like me, you feel something jarringly wrong here.

From the small snippet I saw in this trailer, the actor, Dean O'Gorman, who is supposed to be playing Kirk Douglas neither looks nor sounds anything like Douglas. I'm just hoping it's not too late to fix this. The look can be fixed cosmetically: correcting the hair style and color and finding a way to put a hole in O'Gorman's chin. Then, perhaps, you can recruit someone like Frank Caliendo to dub the audio. Where's Frank Gorshin when we need him?

Monday, August 10, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story *** Directed by Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker. For more than four decades, Caroll Spinney has been the man inside the Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Spinney shares the highlights of his unique career in this documentary. This film reminds us that even the most omnipresent cultural phenomena were created by someone, usually through a combination of hard work and happenstance.

Welcome to New York *** Directed by Abel Ferrara. Modeled on the scandal involving French statesman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, this cautionary drama of politics and lust tracks the fate of a powerful public figure (Gerard Depardieu) whose reputation begins to crumble after he’s accused of raping a hotel maid. With Depardieu’s intensely physical performance at its core, Welcome to New York achieves a level of intimacy that’s rare for films about public figures — and, in this case, exposes Strauss-Kahn for all to see.

I Am Chris Farley **½ Directed by Brent Hodge, Derik Murray. A documentary on the life of the comedian. The movie is never able to get to the bottom of why the man so loved by his friends was unable to be comfortable out of the spotlight. But it is a warm, nostalgic reminder of a talent who died before his time.

Match **½ Directed by Stephen Belber. As a Juilliard professor (Patrick Stewart) is interviewed by a woman (Carla Gugino) and her husband (Matthew Lillard) for her dissertation on the history of dance in 1960s New York, it becomes increasingly clear that there are ulterior motives to the couple’s visit. While it offers some provocative moral quandries, it serves mostly as a showcase for Stewart.

Unfriended **½ Directed by Levan Gabriadze. A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend. Even though it begins to cheat, springing loud noises and gory cutaways that can’t be explained, there’s a rigor to its dopey, blood-simple conception that you might smile at.

Soaked in Bleach ** Directed by Benjamin Statler. Tom Grant, a private investigator once hired by Courtney Love, reveals his take on the death of Kurt Cobain. It’s easy to accuse this of many things, being a typical conspiracy documentary that makes many leaps in credibility in order to support its narrative being one of them, but lack of focus is not among its faults.

Hunting Elephants ** Directed by Reshef Levi. To avenge his son’s death and keep the family afloat, shady retirement home resident Eliyahu (Sasson Gabai) plans a daring bank heist with his socially awkward 12-year-old grandson, his former partner-in-crime and their penniless actor pal (Patrick Stewart). Though it contains some nice twists, the story is largely predictable and old-fashioned in ways both good (the characters’ unlikely come-what-may camaraderie) and bad (misogyny and machismo abound).

Preggoland ** Directed by Jacob Tierney. Ruth, 35, (Sonja Bennett) fakes being pregnant to fit in with her friends. The movie’s flaw is that it mixes tones. Ruth, her relatives and her fellow workers are realistically played, but her gal-pal buddies are caricatures.

Police Story: LockdownDirected by Sheng Ding. A man looking for the release of a long-time prisoner takes a police officer, his daughter, and a group of strangers hostage. Mostly a humorless bore until the obligatory bloopers and outtakes in the end credits — and even those are drawing from a flat vein, since there’s so little play in the movie.

Hot Pursuit * Directed by Anne Fletcher. An uptight and by-the-book cop (Reese Witherspoon) tries to protect the outgoing widow (Sofia Vergara) of a drug boss as they race through Texas pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen. A relentlessly unfunny comedy, it wastes the talents of Witherspoon and Vergara as egregiously as one could possibly imagine, resorting to lame jokes, cliches and incompetent storytelling to pass the time.

Patch Town * Directed by Craig Goodwill. Once a beloved toy, humanoid Jon (Rob Ramsay) now spends his days at a factory that produces babies from cabbages and turns them into dolls for sale. This dark fantasy manages to be grindingly dull despite its many quirks.

Monday, August 3, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Far From the Madding Crowd *** Directed by Thomas Vinterberg. In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. Between the sheer on-screen beauty and the finely wrought performances of Mulligan and Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd has its appeal. Yet like unrequited love, one can’t help but lament what might have been.

Faults *** Directed by Riley Stearns. Desperate to free their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a cult, her parents hire deprogramming expert Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), despite his checkered reputation. Stearns directs with a slow-burning intensity that becomes more unsettling the deeper Ansel goes into his task, and the more it becomes apparent he doesn’t have an easy way out.

The Salvation **½ Directed by Kristian Levring. After emigrating to America’s wide-open west, a Danish homesteader (Mads Mikkelsen) brings over his wife and son seven years later, only to see them promptly murdered. To avenge their deaths, he kills the culprits, unaware that one is related to a brutal gang leader. Nothing quite competes with the blistering opening scene, but The Salvation’s cast of characters mean it’s never less than a fun watch.

Antarctic Edge: 70 South **½ Directed by Dena Seidel. A documentary about an elite group of scientists that sets out to investigate the rapid melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet. It appears afraid of alienating viewers by overloading on scientific jargon, and in the process becomes too attracted to ultimately superfluous anecdotes.

Adult Beginners **½ Directed by Ross Katz. When what was to be a major business coup turns into a financial disaster, penniless entrepreneur Jake (Nic Kroll) decamps from Manhattan and lands on his sister’s doorstep in suburbia where he ends up as nanny to his 3-year-old nephew. This film is mostly just nice. Neither dramatic enough to qualify as drama nor amusing enough to completely succeed as comedy, it’s the kind of movie that coasts on pleasantness, content to elicit a few smiles before disappearing from memory banks.

Jackie & Ryan ** Directed by Ami Canaan Mann. A modern day train hopper (Ben Barnes) fighting to become a successful musician, and a single mom (Katherine Heigl) battling to maintain custody of her daughter, defy their circumstances by coming together in a relationship. The movie is supposedly all about learning how to get where you gotta go, but none of the characters start or end in particularly interesting places.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead ** Directed by Kiah Roache-Turner. After a comet rains mysterious germs on Earth, auto mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher) finds his world overrun by zombies. When his sister (Bianca Bradey) ends up in the hands of a doctor conducting hideous experiments on plague survivors, Barry begins a bloody crusade to rescue her. Although distinguished by some wildly staged vehicular chase sequences and genuinely witty deadpan dialogue, the film inevitably feels like a footnote to the plethora of similarly themed movies and television shows that seem to arrive on a weekly basis.

Madame Bovary ** Directed by Sophie Barthes. Young Emma Bovary’s (Mia Wasikowska) passions overwhelm her solemn vows of marriage when the dashing Marquis d’Andervilliers (Logan Marshall-Green) captivates her heart, ultimately leading her down the path to ruin. An uninspired narrative and disengaged performances ultimately keep persuasive deep feeling and captivation at a far distance.

A Little Chaos ** Directed by Alan Rickman. When headstrong landscape designer Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) is chosen to work on the gardens of King Louis XIV’s (Rickman) opulent new palace at Versailles, she finds herself at odds with the project’s chief architect (Matthias Schoenaerts). This overwatered trifle is doomed to wilt and fade quickly from memory.

True Story ** Directed by Rupert Goold. Follows the complex relationship between accused murderer Christian Longo (James Franco) and disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), whose identity Longo had usurped until he was captured by the FBI. Unfortunately this Story never finds its footing as either a creepy morality play or a performance-driven two-hander.

Ride ** Directed by Helen Hunt. A mother (Hunt) travels cross-country to California to be with her son after he decides to drop out of school and become a surfer. By turns deft and clumsy, inspired and insipid, this is a deeply sincere mess of a comedy.

Every Secret Thing ** Directed by Amy Berg. Convicted of killing an infant when they were 11-year-old girls, Alice (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) — now 18 and just out of jail — find themselves suspects again when a 3-year-old goes missing. This is a small, well-crafted film with a few chilling moments and some fine performances, but it’s a muddled, pedestrian crime thriller.

Barely Lethal Directed by Kyle Newman. A professional teen assassin (Hailee Steinfeld) pines for a more normal existence, so she fakes her own death and enrolls in high school. The premise, that high school is more perilous than a life of espionage, is witty and full of potential. But Newman makes that case by staging his car chases and fight scenes with as much sense of drama as eighth-period trig.

The Divergent Series: InsurgentDirected by Robert Schwentke. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) must confront her inner demons and continue her fight against a powerful alliance which threatens to tear her society apart. Tighter, tougher and every bit as witless as its predecessor, the second segment in the cycle arrives with a yawn and ends with a bang.

Child 44Directed by Daniel Espinosa. A disgraced member of the military police (Tom Hardy) investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Gloomy, dishwater gray, and often framed through dusty glass, this film wastes no time announcing itself as a capital-S Serious movie that doesn’t have a clue what it’s supposed to be about. Stalinist paranoia, marital anxiety, and a serial killer figure in the murky plot, done no favors by Espinosa’s inert direction.

Burying the ExDirected by Joe Dante. A guy’s (Anton Yelchin) regrets over moving in with his girlfriend (Ashley Greene) are compounded when she dies and comes back as a zombie. There aren’t any scares to speak of, though there is some gore. The cast is game to try anything, but there’s just not much here for them to work with. Like most zombies, this is an idea that should have stayed dead.

Phantom HaloDirected by Antonia Bogdanovich. Forced to support their drunken dad (Sebastian Roché), Emerson brothers Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Beckett (Luke Kleintank) resort to thievery, with Samuel diverting the public as Beckett picks their pockets. Messy and confused, the film is a mishmash of tropes from Shakespeare, heist movies, family melodrama, and romance novels hastily thrown together.

Inner DemonsDirected by Seth Grossman. When straight-A student Carson Morris (Lara Vosburgh) veers into a life of drugs and self-destruction, her parents turn to a reality show for an intervention. The film makes one damning if unoriginal observation — the "reality" presented on reality TV is manufactured — and then does nothing to expand on it.

Blackbird * Directed by Patrik-Ian Polk. A young singer (Julian Walker) struggles with his sexuality and the treatment of others while coming of age in a small Southern Baptist community. The film is, like its main character, too naïve to understand or, at least, to deploy the reparative powers of camp.

Do You Believe? ½* Directed by Jon Gunn. When a pastor is shaken by the visible faith of a street-corner preacher, he is reminded that true belief always requires action. A deranged melodrama where any sense of soapy, campy fun is undercut by the preachy, self-serious tone.

Any Day ½* Directed by Rustam Branaman. A recovering alcoholic, former boxer and convicted murderer (Sean Bean) is desperately trying to put his past behind him, when he finds redemption in a relationship with his adoring nephew and a romantic entanglement with a beautiful mortgage broker (Eva Longoria). To say this is a bad movie doesn’t go far enough, because it’s not just bad. It’s frustrating, it’s a slap in the face of filmmakers still struggling to get a project greenlit, and it makes me wonder how so many recognizable actors came to be involved in such drivel.