‘Byzantium’ bites, ‘Despicable’ delights and ‘Lone’ lets down in theaters

Among the new movies that were released over the Independence Day 2013 holiday weekend in theaters throughout the Valley are a drama about fangless vampires, a sequel to a 2010 animated adventure and a new western inspired by a classic character.

Byzantium

Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play mother and daughter vampires seek refuge in a run-down coastal resort. As knowledge of their secret spreads, their past catches up on them with deathly consequence. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (R – 118 Minutes)

Fear not the fangless vampires in “Byzantium” for their thirst of your blood. (They use sharp thumbnails to puncture their victims before savoring the red juices within.) Instead, fear their innate ability to put you to sleep. “Interview with the Vampire” director Neil Jordan’s new dramatic fantasy flick is certainly stylish with cinematography that will take your breath away, but screenwriter Moira Buffini adapts her stage play “A Vampire Story” with dippy dialogue that makes your eyes roll, a placid pace that makes your eyelids feel increasingly heavy and a convoluted chronology that will make you go absolutely batty. (Thumbs Down!)

Despicable Me 2

Steve Carell once again voices the evil villain Gru, who this time is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal (Benjamin Bratt). Other voice talents include Kristen Wiig, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong and Steve Coogan. (PG – 98 minutes)

“Despicable Me 2” may still not be on the same level as some other recently released animated adventures, but at least it is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. Doing away with the disjointed approach that made 2010’s franchise-opener feel more like a series of loosely connected shorts than a cohesive feature film and amplifying its emotional resonance with a romantic subplot, the new sequel is fun for audiences of all ages. Younger viewers will go mad for the Minions while everyone else will appreciate the themes of overcoming past rejections and being accepted for your true self despite your despicability. (Thumbs Up!)

Just Like a Woman

Sienna Miller and Golshifteh Farahani play a Chicago housewife and a North African immigrant, respectively, who flee to Santa Fe. One wants to achieve her dream of becoming a professional belly dancer while the other is on the run from the police. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (R – 106 minutes)

“Just Like a Woman” shows plenty of promise as it features a first act that draws you into its characters’ external – and internal – conflicts and a story that seems as though it could be incredibly inspiring. Unfortunately, as said story progresses, it overgeneralizes just about everything and everyone – especially when it comes to men who, if you were to believe this drama, are all horrible human beings. Needless to say, one could definitely take offense with that (or even develop a complex for that matter). But the larger issue is that such vague notions inhibit the movie’s ability to entertain much less uplift. (Thumbs Down!)

The Lone Ranger

Johnny Depp plays Native American warrior Tonto, who recounts the untold tales that transformed man of the law John Reid (Armie Hammer) into a legend of justice. (PG-13 – 149 minutes)

It is a shame that director Gore Verbinski did not trust enough in the old-fashioned mystique of a masked cowboy and instead chose to turn “The Lone Ranger” into yet another showcase for Johnny Depp’s absurd antics and farcical facial expressions. The new western adventure only momentarily captures the classic property’s spectacular spirit – in its grand finale during which the titular character saves the day on horseback while a reverberating rendition of the “William Tell Overture” plays in the background. It is neither as faithful to the genre as “3:10 to Yuma” nor as groundbreakingly different as “Wild, Wild West.” (Thumbs Down!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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