‘Mortal’ decays, ‘Scenic’ shocks and ‘Next’ entertains in theaters

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Aug. 23 in theaters throughout the Valley are the latest entry in the young adult book-to-film adaptation craze, a dramatic thriller in which Josh Duhamel sports a mohawk and a horror flick that has more laughs than scares.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Casey Affleck plays an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife (Rooney Mara) and the daughter he has never met. Ben Foster also stars. (NR – 97 minutes)

There is an awful lot of substance packed into several aspects of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” For example, its cinematography is beyond breathtaking, its characters are extremely complex and the performances given by its three leads are genuinely nuanced. However, the one aspect of writer/director David Lowery’s new drama that is in desperate need of more substance is its story, which is so meager that it cannot sustain viewers’ interest for the film’s relatively brief runtime. After rushing through the most monumental moments of the movie in the first few minutes, the motion picture plods along to its anticlimactic end. (Thumbs Down!)

Europa Report

An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to investigate the possible existence of alien life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon. Stars include Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copely and Dan Fogler. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (PG-13 – 90 minutes)

Chances are, if you are able to stay awake throughout the entire duration of “Europa Report,” you would make an excellent astronaut. After all, there is nothing more boring than sitting inside of a spacecraft while absolutely nothing happens. So, if you can watch other people do that without succumbing to sleep’s siren-like call, then you are more than equipped for interstellar travel. The new science-fiction thriller plays up the science but skimps on the thrills. And although director Sebastián Cordero paints a breathtaking portrait of our solar system, screenwriter Philip Gelatt waits way too long to inject anything interesting into the story. (Thumbs Down!)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Lily Collins plays a seemingly ordinary teenager who, when her mom (Lena Headey) is attacked and taken from their home in New York City by a demon, finds out truths about her past and bloodline that changes her entire life. (PG-13 – 130 minutes)

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is, to date, the worst entry in the young adult book-to-film adaptation craze spurred by the success of “The Twilight Saga.” The new supernatural-themed romantic drama/adventure flick is less a movie than it is a feature-length pilot for a bad CW television series that nobody in their right mind would ever actually watch. It is too scary for kids, too silly for adults and too long, convoluted and incomplete for everyone in between. Its acting is so atrocious, dialogue is so dreadful and revelations are so ridiculous that its only logical use is as drinking-game fodder. (Thumbs Down!)

Savannah

Jim Caviezel plays a post-Civil War aristocrat who seeks his fortune as a market hunter on the Savannah River and clashed with the government while exercising his right to free enterprise. Along the way, Allen remains deeply loyal to his business partner (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and falls for an irrepressible Southern belle (Jaimie Alexander). Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14. (PG-13 – 101 minutes)

Contrary to its theme of man’s eternal longing to live a life meaningful enough to avoid being forgotten, “Savannah” will be erased from your memory almost the exact moment that you exit the movie theater. There is nothing particularly bad about writer/director Annette Haywood-Carter’s new historical drama. It is just that the film flies through an extended period of time with very little flavor except for a pair of excellent performances from stars Jim Caviezel and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is the cinematic equivalent of a folk song; the melody is certainly pleasurable but the lyrics sing an all-too-familiar tune. (Thumbs Down!)

Scenic Route

Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler play best friends who are on a road trip when their old pickup breaks down, leaving them stranded on an isolated desert road. As the relentless elements of the desert grind them down, they start to attack each other’s life decisions with unwavering brutality. (R – 85 minutes)

“Scenic Route” is a top-notch dramatic thriller that forces you to doubt your own reality when life’s pendulum finally starts swinging in a positive direction. Anchored by a razor-sharp screenplay from scribe Kyle Killen and amplified by two powerhouse performances from stars Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, this flick’s intensity slowly but surely escalates from trivial friction to extreme brutality, eventually landing smack-dab in the center of psychological unbalance. This story of survival is a journey that is well worth taking – not only for its excellent entertainment value but also for its thrilling theoretical ramifications. (Thumbs Up!)

Spark: A Burning Man Story

Filmmakers Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter provide an inside look at the Burning Man organization and the challenges it is facing as it grows in global recognition and popularity. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (NR – 112 minutes)

Although Burning Man has grown from a small annual bonfire into a week-long event drawing more than 50,000 people to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, few of us will ever actually attend the experiment in community, art, radical self-expression and radical self-reliance. Therefore, that – the up-close and personal tour into something so exceptionally eccentric and especially exotic – is the primary appeal of “Spark: A Burning Man Story.” And while filmmakers Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter essentially turn the last half-hour into a series of false endings, it is a titillating tour that is well-worth taking. (Thumbs Up!)

You’re Next

When a gang of masked, ax-wielding murderers descends upon a family reunion, the hapless victims seem trapped – until an unlikely guest of the family proves to be the most talented killer of all. (R – 94 minutes)

“You’re Next” will not only scare the living daylights out of you but it will also afford you one of the most frighteningly fun times that you will have while watching a movie all year. The new home-invasion slasher does this by laying groundwork of a truly terrifying set of circumstances and slowly but surely raising the stakes while also taking advantage of each and every opportunity that arises along the way to toy with the horror genre’s contrivances – of which, as any die-hard fan could tell you, there are many. The end-result is a uniquely engaging experience. (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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