The 911 operator is an incredibly important but entirely marginal figure in American popular culture. This character facilitates countless movie and television plots -- connecting victims to police offers -- but receives almost none of their own. What does it take to do this job? How does it weigh on the people who perform it? When 'The Call' slows down from its breathless (and, ultimately, brainless) thriller pace, it asks some interesting questions.
Scott Weidemeyer (Sam Eidson) is an antisocial curmudgeon who lives with his grandmother and spends his entire week looking forward to that one night when he plays Dungeons & Dragons with his four nerd buddies. For a powerless guy like Scott, who works as a donut store delivery boy, D&D is the ultimate power fantasy: as the Game Master of the group, he creates elaborate storylines and manipulates the lives of dozens of characters. It's the place where someone who has no control over his life gets to feel in control for a change.
The very funny and very wise 'Zero Charisma' is what happens when that refuge from the real world comes under attack. When Scott's D&D group loses one of its members, he finds a replacement at the local RPG store: Miles (Garrett Graham), who, as it turns out belongs to a new breed of geek. He knows 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars,' but he has a girlfriend. His website, the oxymoronically titled GeekChic.com, gets hundreds of thousands of hits a day. He drinks and throws parties (that don't involve tabletop games). For a nerd, he actually seems kind of... cool. And his arrival in the game throws it into chaos. Scott may be the Game Master but he finds himself increasingly marginalized as his buddies look more and more to Miles for guidance, advice and friendship.
It's a little weird that a movie about the dangers of doing something so long that it becomes rote and stale is, at times, incredibly rote and stale. Write what you know, I guess; 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' has a couple big laughs, a few small laughs, and a whole lot of going through the Hollywood mainstream comedy motions. As a movie, it's a mess; in select moments, it's occasionally hilarious. It's probably best appreciated as a playlist of highlight clips on YouTube.
'Drinking Buddies' may have a cast full of popular film and TV actors, it might have a bigger budget and a more accomplished cinematographer, but it is still a Joe Swanberg movie through and through. As in previous works by the prolific independent filmmaker like 'Hannah Takes the Stairs' and 'Alexander the Last,' the plot advances glacially. The characters ramble, mumble and stammer in the extreme. The primary conflict in this movie is the protagonists' absolute inability to tell each other how they really feel beneath their flirtations and small talk.
"I don't want to be a good man; I want to be a great one." So says Oscar, a humble (read: crummy) magician in a traveling circus circa 1905, just before a magical tornado sweeps him and his hot air balloon away to a land that just so happens to share his nickname: Oz. In 'Oz the Great and Powerful,' Oscar (James Franco) finds exactly what his heart desires; the chance to be a great man, wealthy and powerful, the ruler of a beautiful kingdom. And the kingdom does look damn good, and most of Oz's adventures in it are pretty entertaining as well.
The third row of an IMAX screen is a sufficiently disadvantageous perspective to give you a taste of the way the hero of 'Jack the Giant Slayer' sees the world. From that angle, even regular-sized humans loom ominously overhead; you can imagine how big the giants look. But that's about as impressive as the surprisingly crummy 'Jack' gets.
This review contains spoilers for 'The Last Exorcism' -- though not for 'The Last Exorcism Part II.'
Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), the heroine of 'The Last Exorcism,' was a great tragic figure; a sweet, innocent girl inexplicably hounded by a nefarious cult and a vicious demon named Abalam. With 'The Last Exorcism Part II,' Nell's story grows even sadder -- by extending it into this superfluous and perfunctory sequel that casts her as a quivering, helpless victim and strips away almost everything that made the first film such an unexpected delight. Gone is the effective found footage gimmick, gone are the profound questions about faith, gone, most surprisingly, is most of Bell's impressive contortionist act. This time, she does as much contorting on the poster as she does in the film itself.
The McClanes are a weirdly demanding family. They refuse to love husband and father John until he saves each of their lives from vicious terrorists: first his wife Holly ('Die Hard' and 'Die Hard 2'), then his daughter Lucy ('Live Free or Die Hard') and now his son Jack in 'A Good Day to Die Hard,' the latest and exponentially worst film in the 'Die Hard' franchise. How many more bad guys does John McClane have to kill to get his family to see that he really does care? More, it seems; the answer is always more.
You'll see 'No' sometime after its limited release date on February 15th. I had the good fortune to watch it on February 4th, the day after the Super Bowl, our country's unofficial national holiday for advertising; the one day of the year when viewers go to the bathroom during the entertainment programming so they won't miss the commercials. We take Super Bowl ads seriously as art as well as commerce, and maybe even as reflections of our country's headspace at a given moment. That's all beneficial context with which to view 'No,' Pablo Larrain's inspirational but clear-eyed historical drama about a real moment in time when good advertising toppled a horrible dictator.
Press screenings of Steven Soderbergh's 'Side Effects' -- supposedly the director's final theatrical film before his self-imposed retirement -- were carefully monitored for latecomers. Stragglers who arrived after the screening began were greeted by signs like this one, reading that "due to the non-linear nature of this film, it would be unrewarding for you to enter at this point." This sort of thing is fairly unprecedented at press screenings (at least in my 10 or so years of experience), but they do resemble warnings that were placed outside theaters back in 1960, when what would become one of the most famous movies in Hollywood history was released to theaters -- a knowing wink from "The Filmmakers," as they signed their note, indicating their inspiration in this endeavor. That inspiration can be found here -- but be warned that clicking that link could probably be considered a spoiler.