‘Fruitvale’ fails, ‘Hunt’ unhinges and ‘Wolverine’ weighs in theaters

Among the new movies that were released Friday, July 26 in theaters throughout the Valley are a drama about a young man whose life is cut entirely too short, a drama about a man whose life is obliterated by a little white lie and an actioner about a mutant whose life is full of regret.

Crystal Fairy

Michael Cera plays a boorish, insensitive American in Chile who, in a fit of drunkenness at a wild party, invites an eccentric young woman (Gaby Hoffmann) on a road trip north to experience a legendary shamanistic hallucinogen called the San Pedro cactus. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (NR – 98 minutes)

The first half of “Crystal Fairy” is not exactly brilliant, but it is at least a delightfully diverting experience. After all, writer/director Sebastián Silva essentially invites viewers on a spur-of-the-moment road trip with Michael Cera as Michael Cera (or at least what we have come to believe is Michael Cera) – and who wouldn’t welcome that? However, the thing about road trips is that the journey is usually more momentous than the destination. Silva and company arrive at theirs entirely too soon and what was once a carbonated chronicle comes to grinding halt with a deeply digressive second half. (Thumbs Down!)

Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan plays a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who is shot in cold blood by BART officers at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day. His life and tragic death shakes the Bay Area – and the entire nation – to its very core. (R – 84 minutes)

“Fruitvale Station” is expertly acted and is designed in such a way that is certain to get an emotional reaction out of some of its viewers. However, others – the more rationally thinking ones – will wonder why, lacking any intellectual insight, this story even warranted being made into a movie. Granted, it is a gut-wrenching event that writer/director Ryan Coogler documents in his new drama, which is based on a true story. But bad things happen to good people – regardless of race – every single day yet the filmmaker fails to acknowledge that overarching issue and instead focuses on inciting socio-political protest. (Thumbs Down!)

Grabbers

Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley play a pair of police officers in an idyllic fishing village off the coast of Ireland who discover that the only way to fend off the bloodsucking aliens that have invaded their island is to get drunk – very, very drunk. Playing exclusively at the FilmBar. (NR – 94 minutes)

Anyone who grew up on the B-movie charm of “Tremors” will see the initial appeal in “Grabbers.” After all, the new motion picture promises plenty of schlocky entertainment. But, unfortunately, the film fails to deliver that in such a way that will leave you laughing your head off and instead comes across as slightly more serious than one might expect. Having said that, the special effects are spectacular and the premise is just peculiar enough to keep you intrigued from beginning to end. You just cannot help but think that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost could have ratcheted up the comedic value, though. (Thumbs Up!)

The History of Future Folk

Nils d’Aulaire plays a decorated soldier from the planet Hondo who is sent to Earth to wipe out its current inhabitants with a flesh-eating virus. However, shortly after landing, he is enchanted by the mystical human invention known as “music,” abandons his mission to eradicate the human race and launches a one-alien bluegrass act instead. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (NR – 85 minutes)

From the looks of “The History of Future Folk’s” poster, on which its two stars rock both stringed instruments and red bucket-head space-suits, you would never predict that the new so-called “alien-folk-duo sci-fi-action-romance-comedy” is actually an extremely endearing motion picture. And although said endearment remains potent from beginning to end, the novelty of its plot wears off rather quickly and what was once charming grows slightly annoying. Writer/director John Mitchell and co-director Jeremy Kipp Walker summarize the story’s most magnetic moments during which star Nils d’Aulaire’s character is first enhanced by music and spend most of the movie’s time on humdrum hijinks. (Thumbs Down!)

The Hunt

Mads Mikkelsen plays a former school teacher who has been forced to start over having overcome a tough divorce and the loss of his job. Just as things are starting to go his way, his life is shattered when an untruthful remark throws his small community into a collective state of hysteria. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (R – 115 minutes)

“The Hunt” is the kind of movie that will make you vehemently angry. However, unlike most motion pictures that do so, writer/director Thomas Vinterberg’s new drama does not make it very easy for its viewers to find someone at whom they can aim that anger. The only thing that is absolutely certain is that we are all just one little white lie away from eternal and universal condemnation – which may be the scariest concept that each of us will ever have to swallow. Destined to provoke compelling conversations born from elevated emotions, this may be the year’s best foreign-language film. (Breakthrough!)

The Look of Love

Steve Coogan plays adult magazine publisher and entrepreneur Paul Raymond who, as a modern-day King Midas, became one of the richest men in Britain at the cost of losing those closest to him. Anna Friel and Imogen Poots also star. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (NR – 105 minutes)

“The Look of Love” is the kind of movie that truly transports viewers to a previous point in time – in this case, the 1960s – with an amazing amount of authenticity. That is to say that director Michael Winterbottom’s new biopic is the closest thing to a time machine that we will likely ever see. However, in spite of not only that but also the purity in the performances of its three stars, the film fails to fully impress as it glosses over the life of its subject rather than thoroughly probing into only the pertinent parts and unearthing some significant insight. (Thumbs Down!)

Terms & Conditions May Apply

Filmmaker Cullen Hoback exposes what corporations and governments learn about people through Internet and cell phone usage and what can be done about it – if anything. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (NR – 79 minutes)

Although filmmaker Cullen Hoback could have presented the information contained in “Terms & Conditions May Apply” with a little more pizazz, there is no denying that his new documentary is a dynamic and eye-opening experience. If viewed as part of a double-feature with the excellent ensemble drama “Disconnect” released earlier this year, some may very well be scared straight into Amish-hood. The rest of us, though, will take the more logical approach of actually reading the fine print for the first time in our lives and taking a firm stand against those who see privacy as more of a luxury than a civil liberty. (Thumbs Up!)

The Wolverine

Hugh Jackman reprises his role as Wolverine, who makes a voyage to modern-day Japan where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future. Famke Janssen also reprises her role as Jean Grey. (PG-13 – 126 minutes)

The bad news is that “The Wolverine” is the weakest “X-Men” movie to date. The good news is that it is still the best superhero movie of the summer. And although anyone who has seen the transitory “Iron Man 3” and the spiritless “Man of Steel” can attest how such a statement is not exactly saying all that much, the new actioner is at least unique in its approach, coming off as a contemplative study of a broken warrior. That along with a gripping bullet-train sequence and star Hugh Jackman’s innate charisma as this character make it so that this “X” still marks the spot for engaging entertainment. (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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