‘Elysium’ goes up, ‘Percy’ goes Greek and ‘Millers’ gets high in theaters

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Aug. 9 in theaters throughout the Valley are a science-fiction flick starring Matt Damon, the sequel to a family film grounded in Greek mythology and a comedy pairing Jason Sudeikis with Jennifer Aniston.

Blackfish

Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite documents notorious killer whale Tilikum, who is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, thereby showing the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (PG-13 – 80 minutes)

If anyone is able to watch “Blackfish” and still pursue a career as a whale trainer at SeaWorld or some similarly themed amusement park, then they very well may be pathologically insane. The same can be said about anyone who watches filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s new documentary and does not immediately feel compelled to take a firm stand against keeping wild animals in captivity and exploiting them for our entertainment. Those whose hearts were broken by 2011’s “Project Nim” will feel similarly anguished upon bearing witness to this cautionary tale, which comes complete with scenes that are more petrifying than anything seen in even the greatest psychological thriller. (Thumbs Up!)

Elysium

Matt Damon plays a man who, in the year 2154 where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds. Jodie Foster co-stars. (PG-13 – 97 minutes)

The first 30 minutes of “Elysium” is absolutely brilliant but, unfortunately, it quickly and continuously devolves during its second and third acts. The new science-fiction film from “District 9” writer/director Neill Blomkamp begins in such a way that possesses the socio-political significance of his earlier effort. However, the moment that star Matt Damon gets surgically outfitted with a robotic exoskeleton, things get a bit too bizarre as the movie constantly switches gears from heist thriller to chase drama and ultimately hand-to-hand-combat flick – none of which emulate even a molecule of the impressive meaning that made up the motion picture’s profound prologue. (Thumbs Down!)

Lovelace

Amanda Seyfried plays Linda Lovelace, a woman who is used and abused by the porn industry at the behest of her coercive husband (Peter Sarsgaard) before taking control of her life. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (R – 92 minutes)

“Lovelace” is tasteless, pointless and completely irrelevant. The new biographical drama about the woman who starred in “Deep Throat” squanders the potential of both its subject and its cast, separating its story into two distinctly different points of view. The first, which is filtered through glitz and glamor, is almost as exploitative as its source material. The second, which is meant to be like a hard punch of truth to the gut, stops short of the segment of time where star Amanda Seyfried could show off the full range of her acting abilities and emotional impact experienced by the woman she portrays. (Thumbs Down!)

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Logan Lerman reprises his role as the son of Poseidon who, in order to restore their dying safe haven, embarks on a quest to the Sea of Monsters to find the mythical Golden Fleece and to stop an ancient evil from rising. (PG – 110 minutes)

Watching “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” is like riding every attraction at an amusement park without ever leaving the movie theater. The new sequel to the 2010 family film is jam-packed with excitement that will thrill audiences of all ages – including those who, like myself, are usually put off by fantasy film franchises like “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Moviegoers are taken on an adventurous array of roller-coasters in rapid succession while also being hit with just a splash of spiritual sensibility, making this one of the best and most universally entertaining motion pictures of the summer. (Thumbs Up!)

Prince Avalanche

Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play highway road workers who spend the summer of 1988 away from their city lives. The isolated landscape becomes a place of misadventure as the men find themselves at odds with each other and the women they left behind. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (R – 94 minutes)

There really is not much of a plot to “Prince Avalanche.” And what meaning – if any – its title possesses is anybody’s guess because even after having endured writer/director David Gordon Green’s new dramedy, one will be utterly unsure as to exactly how to describe the experience. The simplest way is perhaps to just use the word “slow.” But that does not do the enigma that is this flick justice since it suggests that something eventually does happen whereas, in reality, the movie is merely a meanderingly idiosyncratic exercise in the effects of loneliness and isolation. (Thumbs Down!)

The Spectacular Now

Miles Teller plays a high school senior who unexpectedly falls in love with a young woman (Shailene Woodley). What starts as an unlikely romance becomes a sharp-eyed, straight-up snapshot of the heady confusion and haunting passion of youth – one that doesn’t look for tidy truths. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (R – 95 minutes)

Save for a few scenes that are dramatically intense yet oddly lead absolutely nowhere, “The Spectacular Now” is a deeply felt film that redefines the coming-of-age experience. By generally avoiding conventions and instead extracting emotional resonance out of the insecurities of its characters – namely its male lead, played with much profundity by actor Miles Teller – director James Ponsoldt and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have made a movie that sincerely speaks to its audience, reminding us to live in the “now” and take solace in the fact that there is always another “now” tomorrow. (Thumbs Up!)

We’re the Millers

Jason Sudeikis plays a veteran pot dealer who creates a fake family as part of his plan to move a huge shipment of weed into the U.S. from Mexico. Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms and Nick Offerman also star. (R – 109 minutes)

“We’re the Millers” is easily one of the funnier movies of 2013. Thanks to an outstandingly original premise, a lot of lewd jokes that will leave you laughing out loud and a world-class cast led by the abundantly talented yet typically underutilized Jason Sudeikis, the new motion picture positions itself as one of the year’s few comedies that actually clicks. Upping the ante even further is the unconventional juxtaposition of its incredibly crass sense of humor with a surprisingly sweet message about different dysfunctional people coming together to somehow form a family that is far more functional than most. (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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