‘Girl’ touches hearts, ‘Stoker’ shocks sensibilities in theaters

Of the seven new movies that I reviewed during the March 21, 2013 edition of “Breakthrough Thinking: The Magazine,” the two that you should seek out above all others are “The Girl” – a drama that tackles the topic of illegal immigration – and “Stoker” – a drama that is as perverse as it is poetic.

‘The Call’

Halle Berry plays a veteran 911 operator who, upon taking a life-altering call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted, realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life. (R – 94 minutes)

It is no coincidence that “The Call” falls apart precisely at the point that the phone’s connection is lost. After spending an hour building some of the most spectacular suspense that we have seen this year, screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio – seemingly having written himself into a corner – simply gives up and starts dialing random numbers in search of a competent conclusion. Instead, all he finds is sheer stupidity as the story essentially hangs up on any sensibility whatsoever. Granted, it is silly from the start but nothing will prepare you for the farce of a finale. (Grade: C)

‘Dorfman in Love’

Sara Rue plays a single suburbanite who volunteers to cat sit at her unrequited love’s downtown L.A loft and meets another man who appreciates her thereby prompting her to transforms not only the mess of a loft but also the mess of herself. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (PG-13 – 92 minutes)

It is a shame that “Dorfman in Love” is not a better movie. After all, the new romantic comedy propagates a very admirable message about being one’s self and stars actress Sara Rue who really does deserve more recognition for her talent. However, despite those two strengths, the flick fails to take its own advice and instead desperately tries to be what Hollywood wants it to be rather than constructing an identity unique to itself. This cookie-cutter effort features less characters than it does caricatures who navigate the formulaic plot with predictability right up until its ham-fisted finale. (Grade: D)

‘The End of Love’

Mark Webber plays a struggling actor who kindles a relationship with a single mother (Shannyn Sossamon) and begins to realize that he can no longer remain in denial about the real-life consequences his choices have on his own son. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (NR – 90 minutes)

“The End of Love” may be one of the most incredibly intimate motion pictures you will ever witness, exhibiting – with unparalleled honesty – the deeply emotional bond between a parent and their child. That honesty is due in part to actor Mark Webber co-starring with his own real-life son but also because he, in writing and directing the new drama, used his own challenging childhood experiences as inspiration. Having said that, the project is sometimes even so intimate that it feels more like a home movie than a feature film and has all of the format’s momentum and resolution – or lack thereof. (Grade: C)

‘The Girl’

Abbie Cornish plays a single mother who, struggling with the loss of her child to Social Services, crosses paths with that of a young girl from Mexico and begins a journey that will change her life – discovering that she is the architect of her own fate and learning what it is that truly defines home. Playing exclusively at Harkins Arizona Center 24. (PG-13 – 95 minutes)

“The Girl” is a timely and touching tale of transformation through tragedy. Writer/director David Riker’s new drama, which is in the same vein as 2007’s “Under the Same Moon” and 2011’s “A Better Life,” tackles the topic of illegal immigration in a way that encourages viewers to consider the outlook of those on the other side of the fence yet never truly takes sides and instead challenges said viewers to come to their own complex conclusions. And while Riker circumvents some inconvenient details along the way and ends on a somewhat contradictory note, star Abbie Cornish’s penetrating performance is worth the price of admission in and of itself. (Grade: B)

‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’

Steve Carell plays a magician who splits from his longtime stage partner (Steve Buscemi) after a guerrilla street magician (Jim Carrey) steals their thunder. By spending some time with his boyhood idol (Alan Arkin), he looks to remember what made him love magic in the first place. (PG-13 – 100 minutes)

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is definitely fun but it is far from magical. The movie’s strengths lie squarely with its likeable cast members – namely Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey, any one of whom would be more than enough to entertain an audience. Therefore, seeing all three in the same place is trick worth watching in and of itself. However, the material – though it starts strong and finishes fabulously – meanders in the middle and does not provide the motion picture’s three shining stars the right resources to transform this amusing magic wand into a boisterous bouquet of flowers. (Grade: C)

‘Stoker’

Mia Wasikowska plays a friendless young woman who becomes increasingly infatuated with her uncle (Matthew Goode) who, having moved in with her and her emotionally unstable mother (Nicole Kidman), may have ulterior motives. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (R – 98 minutes)

“Stoker” is a poetically perverse motion picture. The new drama, which was directed by Chan-wook Park and written by Wentworth Miller – yes, the same Wentworth Miller who starred in FOX’s groundbreaking television series “Prison Break” – breaks down the barriers of abnormality but it does so with literary refinement. In other words, it uses allegories and symbols to tell its story of savagery and strangeness. Having said that, the flick does take a tad too long to get to its explanatory backstory. But when it does, the floodgates are opened so wide that the viewer nearly drowns in its depravity. (Grade: B)

‘A Resurrection’

Mischa Barton plays a high school counselor who tries to help a mentally ill student (J. Michael Trautmann) who believes that his brother is returning from the grave for revenge on the students who killed him. Devon Sawa and Michael Clarke Duncan also star. Playing exclusively at AMC Westgate 20. (NR – 90 minutes)

“A Resurrection” is worth a watch if only because it is late actor Michael Clarke Duncan’s second-to-last motion picture. Granted, his role in writer/director Matt Orlando’s new thriller is relatively small and the project as a whole is less than a blip on the remarkable roadmap that is his career, but it still reminds us of what a genuinely talented legend we lost last year. The movie itself is nothing special – void of any genuine scares much less logic. However, it at least operates with an original idea rather than resurrecting the same old story. (Grade: D)

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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