‘Gatsby,’ ‘Midnight’s’ and ‘Fundamentalist’ skim stories’ surface in theaters

Among the new movies that were released Friday, May 10 in theaters throughout the Valley are cinematic adaptations of a 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, a 1981 Salman Rushdie book and a 2007 work written by Mohsin Hamid.

Aftershock

Eli Roth plays a hapless American tourist who, in the middle of a night of wild partying with his friends, is suddenly plunged into a living hell when a powerful earthquake rips through the coastal town of Valparaíso, Chile. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (R – 90 minutes)

Those expecting “Aftershock” to essentially show what would happen if an earthquake had hit smack dab in the middle of “Hostel” will be sorely disappointed. Although it is true that Eli Roth has both writing and producing credits on the new thriller in which he also stars and director Nicolás López does place some pretty painful looking ways to die on display, none of it is particularly creative and therefore it all feels somewhat generic. Cementing that quality is a third act that is less about the disquieting consequences of natural disaster than about bad people doing barbaric things. (Thumbs Down)

Aquí y Allá

Pedro De los Santos plays a man who, having returned home to a small mountain village in Mexico after years of working in the US, struggles to rebuild his family and follow his dream of starting a band. Playing exclusively at The FilmBar. (NR – 110 minutes)

“Aquí y Allá” tells a deeply affecting story in an extremely authentic way. At times, writer/director Antonio Méndez Esparza’s drama feels so realistic that you almost forget that you are watching a fictional narrative and instead take it all in as an incredibly intimate documentary. However, while the shooting style and straightforward performances make for a meaningful movie, slow pacing and a redundant second half prevent it from being a very entertaining one – or at least one that is capable of retaining the average viewer’s interest from beginning to end. It is still a commendable effort, though. (Thumbs Down)

The Great Gatsby

Tobey Maguire plays a would-be writer who moves from the Midwest to New York where he is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton also star. (PG-13 – 142 minutes)

“The Great Gatsby” is extraordinarily flashy but emotionally flat. Granted, all of the words are there as writer/director Baz Luhrmann goes through the motions of adapting the classic piece of literature for the silver screen with visual pomp and circumstance that was impossible to portray prior to today’s technology. However, the heart and soul of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story seems to have been sucked right out of it – or at least swallowed up in all of the style. It may encourage you to contemplate the corruption of the American Dream, but there is a difference between thinking about it and truly feeling it. (Thumbs Down)

In the House

A teenager insinuates himself into the house of one of his classmates and writes about it in essays prompting his teacher to rediscover his enthusiasm for his work. However, the boy’s intrusion unleashes a series of uncontrollable events. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (R – 105 minutes)

“In the House” starts with a setup that slowly but surely shows plenty of promise. That is to say that writer/director François Ozon’s new thriller, based on Juan Mayorga’s play, winds up rather well. However, just when the tension is so tight that the viewer has absolutely no idea where this tale will go, Ozon demonstrates that he may have been just as clueless about how to make the most of this story – which gets rather messy and meanderitive. As a result, the audience gets lost in the unraveling and Ozon’s well-constructed house-of-cards comes down without any finesse or fascination whatsoever. (Thumbs Down)

Midnight’s Children

Satya Bhabha and Siddharth play a pair of children who, born within moments of India gaining independence from Britain, grow up in the country that is nothing like their parent’s generation. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (NR – 140 minutes)

The key to adapting a novel for the big screen is to retain the integrity of the original work without relaying each and every minute detail from the text. Unfortunately, Deepa Mehta ignored that very important rule when writing and directing “Midnight’s Children” – a new drama based on the book of the same title authored by Salman Rushdie, who was also involved in co-writing the film’s screenplay. The result is lovely to look at but that beauty only occasionally manifests itself from a place of more depth due to the movie’s insistence upon cramming 446 pages in 140 minutes. (Thumbs Down)

No One Lives

Derek Magyar plays the leader of a ruthless criminal gang that takes a young couple hostage and goes to ground in an abandoned house. However, when the captive girl is killed, the tables are unexpectedly turned and the gang’s members find themselves outsmarted by an urbane and seasoned killer. Playing exclusively at AMC Westgate 20 and Harkins Arizona Mills 25. (R – 86 minutes)

About 20 minutes into “No One Lives,” director Ryûhei Kitamura and screenwriter David Cohen employ an exciting twist that has the potential to put the new horror movie on the map. Within that moment, they turn what would otherwise appear to be a conventional story on its ear. Unfortunately, save for a scene shortly thereafter during which a character makes a brilliantly bloody albeit absurd entrance, the rest of the movie returns to familiar territory – a bunch of bad guys getting bested by an even worse guy. And when no one is likeable, does anyone care if no one lives? (Thumbs Down)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Riz Ahmed plays a young Pakistani man who, while chasing corporate success on Wall Street, finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis and the enduring call of his family’s homeland. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (R – 128 minutes)

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” tells a timely and relatively tense tale about American patriotism that is rarely told or even pondered. However, director Mira Nair’s heavy-handed approach makes the message just a tad bit too hard to swallow. As she did in 2006’s “The Namesake,” Nair hammers the story’s significance into the viewer rather than tapping it in just enough to then allow author Mohsin Hamid’s narrative an opportunity to sink in on its own merits. Having said that, Declan Quinn’s cinematography speaks volumes as does star Riz Ahmed’s performance. Co-star Kate Hudson seems to be somewhat of a black sheep here, though. (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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