‘Zero’ electrifies, ‘Lightning’ misfires in theaters

Of the new movies that I reviewed during the Jan. 10, 2013, edition of “Breakthrough Thinking: The Magazine,” the one that I would most recommend seeing is “Zero Dark Thirty,” director Kathryn Bigelow’s motion picture about the search and eventual raid on Osama Bin Laden. However, you cannot do too wrong by seeing any of the other films featured – unless, of course, you opt to see “Glee” star Chris Colfer’s “Struck by Lightning,” in which case you may very well be just lighting your money on fire.

‘Not Fade Away’

John Magaro plays a young man who, in 1964 New Jersey, decides to form a rock band with his best friends after the Rolling Stones appear on television. (R – 112 minutes)

“Not Fade Away” is an average movie at best, hampered by an attempt to cram too much story into one motion picture that eventually arrives at a very bizarre and dreamlike conclusion. But its leading actor John Magaro – a.k.a. the young man who several years ago sang a song about having enough joy to go around in an exceptional Christmas commercial for Walmart and Coca-Cola – is anything but average, giving one of the year’s absolute finest performances. Moreover, writer/director David Chase – of “The Sopranos” fame – has an undeniable knack for creating authentic atmospheres, saturating the audience’s senses with a completely convincing time and place. (Grade: C)

‘Promised Land’

Matt Damon plays a corporate salesman who is sent, with his partner (Frances McDormand), to close a key rural town in his company’s expansion plans. What seems like an easy job becomes complicated by a grassroots campaign led by another man (John Krasinski). (R – 106 minutes)

Watching “Promised Land” is a pleasurable experience – perhaps too pleasurable. The new drama – which was directed by Gus Vant Sant and written by its two stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski – is such an old-fashioned film that it completely bypasses the positive qualities for which it was likely aiming and feels too feeble for its message to have any real or lasting impact on moviegoers. This is a story that should get the audience all riled up with complex and conflicting emotions but, instead, it comforts viewers with its extremely altruistic intentions, carrying no more weight than a feather. (Grade: C)

‘Struck by Lightning’

Chris Colfer plays a high school senior whose last few weeks of life include a blackmail scheme concocted by his best friend (Rebel Wilson), a mother (Allison Janney) more interested in the bottle than her son’s future and an estranged father (Dermot Mulroney) who suddenly appears with a pregnant fiancée (Christina Hendricks). (NR – 84 minutes)

With “Struck by Lightning,” “Glee” star Chris Colfer has written a role for himself that is so snotty and self-righteous that it is downright impossible to root for him to succeed much less believe that such a character would actually exist in real life without being beaten to a bloody pulp by his peers before promptly getting expelled from each and every school in which he enrolls. Attempts to be witty – which, for the record, are all based in tired cliches and stereotypes – come off as annoyingly arrogant and the movie is absent of any emotion whatsoever, failing its social message in the process. (Grade: D)

‘Texas Chainsaw 3D’

Alexandra Daddario plays a young woman who travels to Texas with her friends to collect an inheritance. Little does she know that an encounter with a chainsaw-wielding killer is part of the reward. (R – 92 minutes)

Granted, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” forgets to sincerely scare its audience and instead relies on its graphic depiction of human flesh being sawed, sliced and otherwise slaughtered into mincemeat to shock and therefore satisfy viewers. However, it does earn an extra point for the unique approach that it employs midway through the movie that challenges said viewers who have long seen star Leatherface as the ultimate horror villain as something of an unexpected antihero. Whether that problematic portrayal works is worthy of a lengthy debate in and of itself but at least director John Luessenhop attempted to do something different. (Grade: C)

‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Chris Pratt, Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton |play an elite team of intelligence and military operatives who, for more than a decade, have been working in secret across the globe, devoting themselves to a single goal – find and eliminate Osama bin Laden. (R – 157 minutes)

The final hour of “Zero Dark Thirty” is earth-shatteringly intense. Unfortunately, the motion picture’s preceding 90 minutes – essentially the entire runtime of most other movies in and of themselves – are deliberately paced, extremely technical and action-starved. Those are by no means bad qualities but they certainly have the potential to disappoint viewers who may have been expecting something similar to director Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker.” The good news is, though, that those who allow the filmmaker to take them on the challenging journey are rewarded with not only an electrifying finale but also an impression of intellectual stimulation. (Grade: B)

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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