‘Chavez’ inspires, ‘Cheap’ thrills and ‘Shirin’ charms

Among the new movies that were released Friday, March 28 are a biopic about a famed civil rights leader and labor organizer, a thriller about brutal bets and a romantic comedy about Iranian-Americans.

Blood Ties

Clive Owen and Billy Crudup play brothers who, on either side of the law, face off over organized crime in Brooklyn during the 1970’s. Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana and James Caan also star. (R – 127 minutes)

“Blood Ties” boasts a simply spectacular soundtrack, an amazingly authentic atmosphere and a cast of actors whose combined talent is enough to bring down the entire organized crime community in 1970’s Brooklyn. So, with so much going for it, how could the new crime drama ever be anything but outstanding? Unfortunately, it could – thanks to a crazily convoluted narrative that seems to go everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There are too many characters to keep track of and subplots to follow, problems that are only made worse by placid pacing and a too-long runtime. (Thumbs Down!)

Cesar Chavez

Michael Peña portrays a man who, torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to bringing dignity and justice to others, embraces non-violence as he battles greed and prejudice in his struggle for the rights of farm workers. (PG-13 – 101 minutes)

“Cesar Chavez” effectively communicates the tale of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer for which the new biopic is named, educating audiences who may or may not be familiar with him or be aware of the significant impact that he has had on so many lives. Fortunately, director Diego Luna does not sacrifice entertainment value for that aforementioned weight, as this account is absolutely arresting from start to finish – particularly because he tells Chavez’s story is such a way that symbolizes themes of dedication, perseverance and – perhaps most important of all – unity. (Thumbs Up!)

Cheap Thrills

Pat Healy plays a struggling family man who, along with his friend (Ethan Embry), is roped into a series of increasingly dangerous dares by an obscenely wealthy stranger (David Koechner) and his mysterious wife (Sara Paxton). (NR – 85 minutes)

Who among us has never done something mortifying for money or at least been foolish enough to accept a degrading dare in an effort to prove a point? Granted, the new dark comedy “Cheap Thrills” takes the scenario to new – not to mention shocking – heights that may make many moviegoers so appalled that they will walk out of the theater. However, for the few of us with a truly twisted sense of humor, this amoral masterpiece is entertainment at its very best, forcing us to ask ourselves about the lengths that we would be willing to go – and the boundaries that we would be willing to cross – to better our circumstances. (Thumbs Up!)

Le Week-End

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play a long-married couple who revisit Paris for a long weekend for the first time since their honeymoon, in hopes of rekindling their relationship – or, perhaps, to bring it to an end. (R – 93 minutes)

At times, “Le Week-End” resembles “Before Midnight” (and its two predecessors “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”) as it takes a very patient and candid look at a realistic relationship between two people. However, here we do not have a history with these two individuals and therefore we never feel a true connection with them. Nor are we compelled to care deeply enough about their problems or encouraged to genuinely celebrate their joys. Although there is a handful of amusing scenes – thanks primarily to the tremendous talent of its two stars – this dramedy falls mostly flat. (Thumbs Down!)

Locker 13

Jason Spisak plays the nighttime janitor in an Old West theme park who delves into the mysteries surrounding an old locker. His sage supervisor recounts chilling tales that underscore the importance of making the right choice – a theme that comes into play when he makes an unsettling discovery and faces a life-or-death decision of his own. (PG-13 – 90 minutes)

Although there is an awful lot of talent involved in “Locker 13” (both behind the camera and in front of it), the new thriller anthology likely worked a bit better on the page than it does on the screen. Its stories are certainly interesting and leave you with a lot to think about but their static nature simply does not lend itself to the visual medium. Having said that, the most static story of all – one in which a would be suicide is shaken to his core by a menacing member of a very special club – is the best of the bunch, demonstrating that this is a property with plenty of potential. (Thumbs Down!)


James Franco plays a talented and successful actor who retires at a young age due to a perceived mental illness. Now living in a small town with his deranged sister (Fallon Goodson) and his best friend (Catherine Keener), we watch as their maladies intertwine. (NR – 97 minutes)

“Maladies” is a movie that is solely for James Franco’s most hardcore fans – the ones who have followed the actor’s various artistic efforts that extend far beyond the silver screen. That is because the new drama is more a performance experiment for Franco than it is a worthwhile piece of entertainment for audiences. Granted, there are a couple of amusing aspects of the film (such as Franco communicating with an omnipresent narrator and co-star Catherine Keener defending her decision to occasionally dress up as a man) but, as a whole, the motion picture is particularly pointless. (Thumbs Down!)

Shirin in Love

Nazanin Boniadi plays a young Iranian-American who, despite being engaged for years to a successful Iranian plastic surgeon (Maz Jobrani), finds herself breaking loyalty and tradition when she falls in love with a mysterious young man (Riley Smith). As her secret unravels and cultures clash, she discovers what it ultimately means to be true to herself. (NR – 104 minutes)

Granted, “Shirin in Love” is a fairly formulaic romantic comedy, telling a story of culture-clashed love that we have heard hundreds of times before, but it is far too likeable to be dismissed that easily. Instead, we relish the opportunity to witness stars Nazanin Boniadi and Riley Smith’s characters finding and falling in love with each other as well as the chance to spend some time with supporting performers such as the spectacular Marshall Manesh. The movie does have a somewhat distracting tendency to jump around, though, as writer/director Ramin Niami cuts scenes a little too quickly and often without proper transitions. (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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