‘Carrie’ is creepy, ‘Escape’ is exciting and ‘Fifth’ is a failure

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Oct. 18 at theaters throughout the Valley are a remake of a classic thriller, an actioner that sees the pairing of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and a drama about WikiLeaks.

2 Jacks

Danny Huston plays a celebrated movie director who sweeps a gorgeous woman (Sienna Miller) off her feet during a whirlwind trip to Hollywood to raise financing for his latest film. Years later, his son (Jack Huston) shows up in Hollywood eager to bankroll his feature debut. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea. (NR – 90 minutes)

“2 Jacks,” writer/director Bernard Rose’s fourth cinematic adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy short story, places much more importance on art than it does on entertainment. As a result, the new two-part dramedy (the film’s first half is set in the past while its second half is set in the present) will appeal primarily to bibliophiles and English majors whereas the rest of us will be beyond bored. All three leads (Danny Huston, Sienna Miller and Jack Huston) give great performances but the style and story are too tepid to afford us anything except the basic theme of contrasting times. (Thumbs Down!)

A.C.O.D.

Adam Scott plays a grown man who, caught in the crossfire of his parents 15-year divorce, discovers he was unknowingly part of a study on divorced children and is enlisted in a follow-up years later, which wreaks new havoc on his family. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview. (R – 87 minutes)

Thanks to its remarkable cast – which includes Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Clark Duke, Jessica Alba and Jane Lynch – “A.C.O.D.” is a more than amusing motion picture. Its first half is actually quite funny as writer/director Stu Zicherman keeps things bouncing along at a brisk pace with broad comedy and outrageous situations that anyone can relate to regardless of if they are an adult child of divorce or not. However, the second half loses a little of that momentum as laughs make way for drama that, unfortunately, does not quite live up to its promised poignancy. (Thumbs Up!)

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Amber Heard plays a young woman who is invited by a group of high-schoolers to a weekend party on a secluded ranch. While the festivities rage on, the number of revelers begins to drop quite mysteriously. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (R – 90 minutes)

Having unfairly sat on the shelf for 7 years, “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” finally has the opportunity to be loved by many more – especially horror flick fans who will find the film to be both a breath of fresh air and a tribute to classic slashers. That is to say that director Jonathan Levine’s thriller plays out in a relatively predictable fashion for the most part before finally featuring a delightfully killer twist. Granted, time has undoubtedly stolen some of its steam, but it is still worth watching what is certain to have inspired the inclusion of intelligence in the genre. (Thumbs Up!)

Carrie

Chloë Grace Moretz plays a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother (Julianne Moore) who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom. (R – 92 minutes)

In reviewing “Carrie,” director Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Brian DePalma’s 1976 telekinetic thriller, there is really only one thing that matters – the prom scene. And it is perfect; and every bit as exciting, suspenseful and dramatically resonant to the rest of the story as you could possibly hope. Having said that, everything else is pretty well done, too, thanks primarily to the performances of star Chloë Grace Moretz, who embodies the title character’s awkwardness and fury, and co-star Julianne Moore, who appears to have been born to play Carrie’s neurotically devout mother. You will squeal with bloody delight. (Thumbs Up!)

The Citizen

Khaled Nabawy plays a man who, yearning to leave behind his life of misfortune in the Middle East, wins the U.S Green Card Lottery for a chance to become an American citizen. He lands in New York City on Sept. 10, 2001. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea. (PG-13 – 99 minutes)

The journey to U.S. citizenship is a rough road to hoe in and of itself. Throw in the added obstacle of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that uphill battle becomes so steep that most men would lie down in defeat. Therefore, “The Citizen” – a story of a man who not only chooses to keep climbing but also does so with a smile still on his face and his integrity intact – is a source of spectacular inspiration. Sam Kadi’s feature-length directorial debut is a true triumph, encouraging viewers to never take for granted what others are willing to fight tooth and nail for. (Thumbs Up!)

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone plays one of the world’s foremost authorities on structural security who, deceived and wrongly imprisoned, must recruit his fellow inmate (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to help devise a daring, nearly impossible plan to escape from the most protected and fortified prison ever built. (R – 116 minutes)

“Escape Plan” is an extremely entertaining combination of brains and brawn. On the one hand, the new prison break flick featuring the one-two-punch of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger is surprisingly clever – sometimes even confusingly so – in the way that its characters go about concocting their… well… plans. On the other hand, the actioner is… well… escapist cinema at its finest, easily enjoyed without any use of your mental muscles. The end-result is a fun albeit awkward mixture of smarts and silliness that is sure to satisfy – so long as you do not take it too seriously. (Thumbs Up!)

The Fifth Estate

Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl play men who become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful and eventually gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history. (R – 124 minutes)

“The Fifth Estate” is without a doubt the worst motion picture of 2013. Director Bill Condon’s new sleeping pill makes a crucial mistake in assuming that its audience already knows a lot about… scratch that… is a scholar in its incredibly complicated subject – WikiLeaks. As a result, the film fails to educate much less entertain. Granted, the central theme of weighing the costs of keeping secrets in a free society against the costs of exposing them is one worth pondering but presenting it in a way that plays out primarily in cyberspace does not make for a very satisfying cinematic experience. (Thumbs Down!)

Ways to Live Forever

Robbie Kay plays a young boy with leukemia who embarks on a “scientific investigation” with questions, observations, evidence, reflections and lists of all the things he wants to do someday. (PG-13 – 95 minutes)

“Ways to Live Forever” may sound like an overly sentimental movie that exists only to make its viewers sob uncontrollably but, surprisingly, taking a look at tragedy through unadulterated eyes turns it into triumph. And while it is true that you may shed a tear or two (it is about a young boy with leukemia, after all), the more dominant emotion experienced will be one of joy. Writer/director Gustavo Ron’s new drama based on Sally Nicholls’s book is an inspiring story of one boy’s journey not toward death but through life, encouraging us to make the most of each and every day of ours. (Thumbs Up!)

We Are What We Are

Bill Sage plays the patriarch of a reclusive family who find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area that forces two daughters (Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers) to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview. (R – 105 minutes)

Perhaps arthouse film fans will appreciate “We Are What We Are,” writer/director Jim Mickle’s new dramatic thriller about a family that engages in cannibalism. But that feels like an awfully small segment of the moviegoing population – arthouse film fans who are anything except repelled by the idea of cannibalism. Meanwhile, horror flick fans will be beyond bored, waiting for the blood and guts that should, by all means, be constantly dripping down this family’s chin but only make a brief appearance at the end. Granted, it has got great atmosphere and therefore an ever-present impression of impending doom, but the story itself is somewhat of a snooze-fest. (Thumbs Down!)

Zero Charisma

Sam Eidson plays an overweight and overbearing fantasy role-playing gamer who finds his life turned upside-down when a handsome and charismatic hipster (Garrett Graham) joins his game. Playing exclusively at the FilmBar. (NR – 97 minutes)

At first glance, “Zero Charisma” looks like a flick that only tabletop role-playing gamers will get. However, contrary to its title, the new comedy has heaps of charisma, drawing viewers – even those who would never be caught dead playing Dungeons and Dragons – in with themes that will feel familiar to anyone who has ever been a designated “leader” – or an “outcast.” Star Sam Eidson’s unlikeable protagonist earns our empathy against insurmountable odds and we laugh an awful lot on the way to understanding that you cannot win at the game called life unless you relinquish at least a little control. (Thumbs Up!)

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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