‘Giant Slayer’ sprouts adventure, ‘Exorcism’ possesses boredom in theaters

Of the four new movies that I reviewed during the March 7, 2013 edition of “Breakthrough Thinking: The Magazine,” your best bet to have a blast is “Jack the Giant Slayer” – a live-action re-telling of the classic English folktale “Jack and the Beanstalk.” However, so long as you steer clear of “The Last Exorcism: Part 2,” you are sure to leave the theater without feeling as angry as a possessed person.

‘21 & Over’

Justin Chon plays a straight-A college student whose best friends (Skylar Astin and Miles Teller) surprise him with a visit for his 21st birthday. What was supposed to be one beer becomes a night of humiliation, overindulgence and utter debauchery. (R – 93 minutes)

“21 & Over,” a new comedy written and directed by “The Hangover” screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, is exactly what one would expect it to be – “The Hangover” for the college crowd. And although it is true that seeing three middle-aged men make the most massive mistakes of their lives is much more amusing than seeing three 21-year-olds make complete donkeys of themselves (as they so often do), Lucas and Moore have conceived some situations that are simply so absurd that you cannot help but let loose and have a fun time. It really should come with one of those “do not try this at home” warnings,” though. (Grade: C)

‘Jack the Giant Slayer’

Nicholas Hoult plays a young farmhand who unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants. Fighting for a kingdom, its people and the love of a brave princess, the farmhand comes face to face with the unstoppable warriors he thought only existed in legend. (PG-13 – 100 minutes)

“Jack the Giant Slayer” has enormous excitement, a humongous heart and abundant adventure. Director Bryan Singer’s new live-action re-telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” succeeds in its efforts to entertain audiences of all ages by simply not straying too far from the classic English folktale’s basic premise and merely modifying the minutia to increase credibility and creativity. Unfortunately, the screenwriters do tack on an extra ending in which the proverbial beanstalk sap hits the fan and the giants kick it into “Transformers” madness mode, but most of the movie stays true to the fairy tale’s fundamental function – inciting and inspiriting our imaginations. (Grade: B)

‘The Last Exorcism: Part II’

Ashley Bell plays a woman who is found terrified and alone in rural Louisiana. Just as she begins the difficult process of starting a new life, the evil force that once possessed her is back with other, unimaginably horrific plans that mean her last exorcism was just the beginning. (PG-13 – 100 minutes)

In 2011, I not only named writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly’s incredibly unsettling drama “Small Town Murder Songs” one of the year’s best movies but also called him one of the top filmmakers to watch. Unfortunately, his follow-up film – “The Last Exorcism: Part II” – makes me look ludicrous and makes him seem like a sell-out. The new horror sequel starts strong with a suggestion that the evil that may haunt one’s mind is far more frightening than the evil that may inhabit one’s body. But, before long, it becomes just a humdrum, run-of-the-mill movie about demonic possessions and exorcisms. (Grade: D)

‘A Place at the Table’

Filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush investigate incidents of hunger experienced by millions of Americans as well as proposed solutions to the problem. (PG – 84 minutes)

“A Place at the Table” is certain to turn the stomachs of its viewers, who are bound to become enraged over the injustice faced by millions of Americans who either do not have enough to eat or are unable to afford the type of food that leads to a long and healthy life. Filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s new documentary succeeds in setting a fire under the seats of its viewers by both tugging at their heartstrings with tales of tragedy and engaging their brains with food for thought. The film’s fascination factor falls in the second half but its subject is still too significant to slight. (Grade: C)

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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