‘Jewtopia’ jests, ‘Prisoners’ paralyzes and ‘Thanks’ shares with sincerity

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Sept. 20 in theaters throughout the Valley are a comedy about a man who learns how to “act Jewish” in order to impress a woman, a crime drama about child abduction and a dramedy about sex addiction.

C.O.G.

Jonathan Groff plays a cocky young man who travels to Oregon to work at an apple farm. Out of his element, his lifestyle and notions are picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (R – 92 minutes)

We are all simply searching for happiness; and no one person’s search is any more important than anyone else’s. That essential insight – along with the absurdity that accompanies religion – is what one ultimately takes away from writer/director Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s new dramedy “C.O.G.” based on one of humorist David Sedaris’s essays. And although the movie may also leave you feeling at least a little flabbergasted, it is as poignant a portrayal of the rocky road to self-discovery that we all must take at some point in our lives as possible – thanks in part to a complex performance from star Jonathan Groff. (Thumbs Up!)

Jewtopia

Ivan Sergei plays a man who, desperate to keep the girl of his dreams (Jennifer Love Hewitt), turns to his best friend (Joel David Moore) to teach him how to “act Jewish.” However, his friend has problems of his own with a fiancé (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) pushing him closer to a mental breakdown as their wedding approaches. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (NR – 89 minutes)

While watching “Jewtopia,” a strange sense of familiarity rushes over you – regardless of your religious affiliation. Granted, the new comedy takes some spirited jabs at Judaism – especially when it comes to a Jewish woman’s tendency to control every aspect of a man’s life, leaving him without any free will (or responsibilities, depending on your particular point of view). However, it also tackles universally relatable themes about how weird and wacky our families can be and how that can ultimately lead to our own unique neuroses. It boasts a brisk pace, an unbelievable cast, boisterous laughs and – best of all – bountiful heart. (Thumbs Up!)

Prisoners

Hugh Jackman plays a man who, when his daughter and her friend go missing, takes matters into his own hands while the police (Jake Gyllenhaal) pursue multiple leads. As the pressure mounts, the desperate father shows just how far he will go to protect his family. (R – 146 minutes)

“Prisoners” is a tad too long, features characters who do some fairly dumb things and does not exactly boast the best performances from its big-name stars, but it beckons in the fall awards contenders in a profoundly powerful fashion. Director Denis Villeneuve’s new crime drama may be one of the hardest motion pictures that you will watch all year as it upsets and unsettles on an exceedingly deep level. Despite its flaws, the film remains well worth watching thanks to the insights it communicates with the wafer-thin and permeable line that it draws between criminal and victim. (Thumbs Up!)

A Single Shot

Sam Rockwell plays a hunter who accidentally shoots a young woman, watches her die and discovers a box of money near her body. He hides her body and takes the cash but when he discovers that the money belonged to a group of hardened criminals, the hunter becomes the hunted. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (R – 116 minutes)

The first 15 minutes or so of “A Single Shot” are nothing short of masterful. Anyone who has seen “Moon” knows just how much of an amazing actor Sam Rockwell can be when on-screen all by his lonesome and armed with nothing but body movements and facial expressions to convey a narrative. Unfortunately, director David M. Rosenthal’s new crime thriller quickly becomes a convoluted game of cat-and-mouse and loses a little of its vigor before a fantastically suspenseful finale. Having said that, it still remains a solid-if-slow-burning story about the search for the only redemption that truly matters – from oneself. (Thumbs Up!)

Thanks for Sharing

Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins and Josh Gad play three men dealing with different stages of sex addiction. As they navigate the rocky shores of recovery, they become a family that encourages, infuriates and applauds each other on the journey toward a new life. Gwyneth Paltrow, Joely Richardson and Alecia Moore also star. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. (R – 112 minutes)

“Thanks for Sharing” is an absolutely amazing motion picture. It is real, honest and heartfelt, taking viewers through a remarkable range of emotions while speaking extremely earnestly about the highly stigmatized subject of sex addiction. It is both intensely specific – talking directly to those who are familiar with the trials and anxieties faced by its characters – but also exceptionally universal – affecting anyone and everyone who has ever struggled to open their self up to love, relinquish all control or face life’s hardest truths. Packed with sincere poignancy and impressive performances, it is undoubtedly one of the year’s very best movies. (Breakthrough!)

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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