Slightly delayed posting this week because I was on vacation. Yippee. Click on title to see the film’s trailer
Spy *** Directed by Paul Feig. A desk-bound CIA analyst (Melissa McCarthy) volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster. Feig’s commitment to the genre, and some truly wonderful set pieces, make this film as lovable as its main character.
Famous Nathan *** Directed by Lloyd Handwerker. A documentary that charts the intriguing history of the director’s family who created and built Nathan’s hot-dog empire. Handwerker treats the project as genealogy rather than corporate image-making. And with home movies and private interviews at his disposal, no one is better equipped to tell this story.
The Connection *** Directed by Cédric Jimenez. A French police magistrate (Jean Dujardin) spends years trying to take down one of the country’s most powerful drug rings. The film is long and occasionally long-winded and determinedly old-fashioned in its approach. That’s why I liked it.
Avengers: Age of Ultron **½ Directed by Joss Whedon. When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron (James Spader) from enacting his terrible plans. There’s so much ground to cover here — so many introductions to make, so much story to churn through, so many gargantuan set pieces to mount — that the movie never really finds room to breathe.
Cop Car **½ Directed by Jon Watts. A small town sheriff (Kevin Bacon) sets out to find the two kids (James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Welford) who have taken his car on a joy ride. Watts demonstrates masterful control, pushing right up against the limits of what we can take (even non-parents will be rattled watching the boys mishandling loaded weapons), and yet, at every turn, the screenplay falls short of the picture’s full potential, missing opportunities that could have made this a classic.
Unexpected **½ Directed by Kris Swanberg. An inner-city high school teacher (Cobie Smulders) discovers she is pregnant at the same time as one of her most promising students (Gail Bean) and the two develop an unlikely friendship while struggling to navigate their unexpected pregnancies. The nuanced performances of Smulders and Bean are flawless. Yet the movie’s calm levelheadedness is a subtle detriment. Everything is a little too easy.
When Animals Dream ** Directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby. Teenager Marie (Sonia Suhl) and her parents live a reclusive life in a small coastal town, where they frighten the townspeople and Marie doesn’t know why. Stylish but slight, Arnby’s debut feature ultimately sticks within werewolf movie conventions, adding little fresh to the form.
Poltergeist ** Directed by Gil Kenan. A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter (Kennedi Clements) after the apparitions take her captive. A disappointingly tame and unimaginative effort, which throws away much of what was best-loved about the original and fails to find worthy replacements.
Zipper *½ Directed by Mora Stephens. A family man (Patrick Wilson) has it all until he risks losing everything due to his inability to fight off his obsessive temptation for other women. This might be entertaining enough in a campy way for you to watch it at home as long as you’ve got a really big bowl of popcorn and an even bigger glass of wine to get you through. Might. be.
Entourage *½ Directed by Doug Ellin. Taking their reckless Hollywood ways to the big screen, actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his posse (Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon) find new and creative ways to get in trouble and Vince’s starring role in a big-budget Dracula film provides plenty of opportunities. That the bonds of friendship between Vince and his pals are predicated so strongly on excluding others feels regressive and drags the movie away from harmless high jinks into something needlessly more spiteful and ugly.
Aloft *½ Directed by Claudia Llosa. A struggling mother (Jennifer Connelly) encounters the son (Cillian Murphy) she abandoned 20 years earlier. There are reasons why everyone on screen looks as unhappy as they do, but Llosa puts viewers in a place where they can’t understand precisely why, so the only choice is to sit there marinating in misery and boredom.
Return to Sender * Directed by Fouad Mikati. A nurse (Rosamund Pike) living in small town goes on a blind date with a man who is not the person he says he is. Proves to be nothing but dead air, an entirely too predictable, slow-paced, and misguided genre effort.