‘Family’ fatigues, ‘Insidious’ disappoints and ‘Populaire’ charms

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Sept. 13 in theaters throughout the Valley are a crime comedy starring Robert DeNiro, a horror sequel from filmmaker James Wan and a French flick about a speed-typing championship.

The Family

Robert DeNiro plays a mafia boss whose family (Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron and John D’Leo) is relocated to a sleepy town in France under the witness protection program after snitching on the mob. Tommy Lee Jones also stars. (R – 110 minutes)

“The Family” operates on a single, solitary running gag – a mafia boss, his wife and their children overreact to everyday suburban annoyances by blowing things up, beating people to a bloody pulp and threatening to do worse if anyone squeals. Granted, gimmick flicks can be fun but, unfortunately, that aforementioned gag is not really very funny the first time much less the dozen or two times thereafter. Moreover, writer/director Luc Besson’s new kind-of-boring crime comedy cannot decide upon a tone and comes off extremely uneven – especially at the onset of a remarkably dark final act. (Thumbs Down!)

Insidious: Chapter 2

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne reprise their roles as a married couple who seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world. (PG-13 – 105 minutes)

“Insidious: Chapter 2” will undoubtedly leave fans of the motion picture’s 2011 predecessor deeply disappointed. It is a pale reflection of what this critic called a “horror masterpiece … guaranteed to instigate numerous nightmares.” After all, it seems as though writer/director James Wan and his writing partner Leigh Whannell were not going for scares this time around and instead just tried to make the movie incredibly clever. However, this turns out to be a massive misfire because not only is the movie missing the elements that fans loved from the first flick, but it also makes it impossible for anyone aside from said fans to follow. (Thumbs Down!)

Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

Filmmakers Tom Bean and Luke Poling explore the life of one of the greatest adventurers of the 20th century – George Plimpton- a man who hung out with U.S. Presidents, played quarterback for the Detroit Lions, photographed Playboy models, played goalie for the Boston Bruins, struck the triangle for the New York Philharmonic and much, much more. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (NR – 87 minutes)

Although it feels as though “Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself” would have been a much more dynamic documentary if Plimpton were still alive to dabble in its production, it remains a compelling portrait of one of the most interesting men who ever lived. Filmmakers Tom Bean and Luke Poling do a decent job of exploring Plimpton’s life, which was generally all about collecting as many experiences as he could, but their approach is a bit too dry to appeal to anyone who is not already familiar with Plimpton. Still, we can all learn a lot from Plimpton’s life and this movie makes that not only an easy task but also a fairly fascinating one. (Thumbs Up!)

Populaire

Déborah François plays a young woman in 1958 who is a terrible secretary but a demon typist while Romain Duris plays her handsome boss who resolves to turn her into the fastest girl in the world. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (R – 111 minutes)

“Populaire” is an instant classic. And I do not just mean that in the hackneyed sense of the phrase that is often used to sing something’s praises. Although it is true that the new French flick is phenomenal, the thing that really sets it apart from the pack is how it genuinely feels like a film that was made in the 1950’s, exuding every essence of the era – from its simple-yet-stylized tropes to its remarkably romantic view of the world. You may not see a more charming movie all year than this exuberant love letter to not only classic cinema but also love itself. (Breakthrough!)

A Teacher

Lindsay Burdge plays a young high school teacher whose seemingly innocent fling with one of her teenage students (Will Brittain) becomes increasingly complex and dangerous as she is fully consumed by her emotions and starts crossing boundaries and acting out in progressively startling ways. Available on demand and digital. (NR – 77 minutes)

If there were not stories in the news about this sort of thing almost every other day, one may think that “A Teacher” is a bit far-fetched. After all, what on earth could possibly possess a seemingly smart young woman to not only cross the ethical boundary of having an affair with one of her students but also become carelessly fixated on keeping him for her own? The answer – insecurity – seems simple but, as dynamically demonstrated by actress Lindsay Burdge, it cannot be more complicated or complex. Burdge’s performance is a tour de force, making this movie a compelling-yet-unsettling piece of provocative entertainment. (Thumbs Up!)

And While We Were Here

Kate Bosworth plays a young American writer who finds herself at a personal and professional crossroads when she accompanies her husband Leonard (Iddo Goldberg) on a business trip as she stumbles into a romantic affair with a younger man (Jamie Blackley). Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (R – 83 minutes)

“And While We Were Here” could not be more drastically different than writer/director Kat Coiro’s previous project – a comedy called “L!fe Happens.” However, the one thing that they share in common is that they are both substantially enjoyable motion pictures that also possess the ability to make a viewer authentically think about his or her life – where they have been and where they are going. This time, Coiro dials down the laughs and amplifies the dramatic essence, using an extraordinarily strong performance from actress Kate Bosworth to demonstrate a human’s absolutely indispensable need to feel loved. (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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