‘Epic’ enchants, ‘Furious’ fires up and ‘Hangover’ hits bottom in theaters

Among the new movies that were released Friday, May 24 in theaters throughout the Valley are an animated adventure about little men who ride hummingbirds, an actioner about big men who drive modified American muscle cars and Japanese tuner cars and a comedy about three crazy men who drive each other even crazier.

Come Out and Play

Vinessa Shaw and Ebon Moss-Bachrach play a couple that takes a vacation to a remote island only to, soon after their arrival, notice that no adults are present – an observation that quickly presents a nightmarish reality. (R – 105 minutes)

The only thing scarier than a psychopath clubbing someone to death whilst sporting an angry scowl is a cheerful child doing so whilst sporting a sunny smile. Having said that, the writer/director of “Come Out and Play” – who wears a mask and is known only by the name Makinov – has made a horror movie that may successfully prevent you from ever entering a playground ever again. It is an extremely eerie experience that is accompanied by a compelling conceit suggesting that there are some things against which we may be hesitant to defend ourselves. (Thumbs Up!)

The English Teacher

Julianne Moore plays a English teacher who convinces her former pupil (Michael Angarano) to produce his play at her high school after he fails to succeed as a playwright in New York while the young man’s overbearing father (Greg Kinnear) pressures him to attend law school instead. (NR – 93 minutes)

Despite some fairly clunky dialogue and an occasional outrageous occurrence that fails to yield logical consequences thereby making it almost impossible to accept this story as taking place in the real world, “The English Teacher” is a delightful dramedy about replacing life’s preordained endings with ones you write yourself. The film never quite reaches its poignancy potential, underplaying themes involving teachers resigning themselves to living their lives vicariously through students and the impact that artists’ creative license have on their family and friends, but it is adequately amusing throughout and concludes in a cleverly eloquent and surprisingly significant way. (Thumbs Up!)

Epic

Amanda Seyfried voices a teenager who finds herself transported to a deep forest setting where a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil is taking place. She bands together with a rag-tag group characters in order to save their world – and ours. (PG – 102 minutes)

If we are being completely honest, the title of “Epic” may be a bit of a stretch. The new animated adventure based on William Joyce’s children’s book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs” is certainly beautiful to look at and tells a story that has both the entertainment value to enchant younger viewers and the strong subtext to teach them a laudable lesson along the way, but it in no way warrants such a bold name. This is because the motion picture caters primarily to kids, trading in the momentous tone of the teaser trailer for disposable excitement and a juvenile sense of humor. (Thumbs Down!)

Fast & Furious 6

Dwayne Johnson reprises his role as a DSS federal agent who enlists the aid of Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) to, in exchange for clear records, help bring a rival gang (Luke Evans) to justice. (PG-13 – 130 minutes)

It will be interesting to see how “Fast & Furious 7” – which has been fast-tracked for a release next summer – will up the ante. After all, where do you possibly go after letting a tank run amok on the wrong side of the freeway and showing how a handful of cars can take down the largest aircraft in the world? Needless to say, “Fast & Furious 6’s” two-tiered last lap is insanely intense, satisfying fans who could care less about trivial things like gravity, maximum velocity and impact tolerance. It could have benefitted from a couple of smaller-scale action sequences to break up the mid-portion’s melodrama, though. (Thumbs Up!)

Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig plays a woman living in New York (despite not really have an apartment) who apprentices for a dance company (despite not really being a dancer) and throws herself headlong into her dreams (even as their possible reality dwindles). (R – 86 minutes)

“Frances Ha” will appeal greatly to any and all lovers of French new wave cinema. It will also appeal to those who find actress Greta Gerwig to be incredibly charming. However, those who have never understood the unfounded fascination with Gerwig may be more annoyed than amused. And although – as a student of film – I appreciate the style in which writer/director Noah Baumbach has packaged this particular story, Gerwig’s performance is – as it always is – so irritatingly idiosyncratic that the movie’s admirable aspects become mostly moot. Gerwig’s insufferable pretentiousness ruins an otherwise promising motion picture. (Thumbs Down!)

The Hangover: Part III

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis reprise their roles as friends whose encounter with a gang leads them to Tijuana and then back to Las Vegas. Ken Jeong also reprises his role while John Goodman joins the cast. (R – 100 minutes)

Have you ever wondered what “The Hangover” would have been like if instead of dealing with the aftermath of daffy decisions made under the influence and retracing their steps to shed some light on a wild night, its three characters merely had to track down – and bring down – Ken Jeong’s Chow at the strong request of a gang? Chances are, the answer is, “No,” and the reasoning is, “Because that does not sound very interesting.” The only thing that “The Hangover: Part III” does is validate that. By abandoning his successful formula, writer/director Todd Phillips replaces laughs with yawns. (Thumbs Down!)

What Maisie Knew

Onata Aprile plays a 6-year-old girl who, while struggling for grace in the midst of her parents’ (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan) bitter custody battle, navigates ever-widening turmoil with innocence, charm and generosity of spirit. (R – 93 minutes)

“What Maisie Knew” is a touching and triumphant exercise in point-of-view filmmaking but it fails to add any new insight to it sadly familiar story. We already knew what Maisie knew – divorces and domestic squabbling do spectacular damage to young hearts that soak up negative emotions like a sponge and are robbed of childhood’s playful impunity. The modern-day cinematic adaptation of Henry James’s 1897 novel shows its 6-year-old star reacting to things we have seen on the screen a thousand times. The tragedy of it all is felt within the first minute. However, for some reason, we are asked to stick around for 92 more. (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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