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“Smurfs 2” – A sequel to the surprisingly not-terrible 2011 kiddie blockbuster is, sadly, just as pointless, unnecessary and, yes, lame as anyone over the age of 6 might have anticipated. Yawn. (C-).
“2 Guns” – An homage to the stripped down, unapologetically nasty (and “R”-rated), down-and-dirty genre flicks directors like Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”), Walter Hill (“The Driver”) and Sam Peckinpah (“Straw Dogs”) were making in the 1970’s. (30 minutes in, I’d already come up with a new, and infinitely better, title: “Bring Me the Head of Charley Varrick.”) Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington are in top form, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them pair up for an eventual sequel. But the film is stolen by the deliciously venal bad guys: Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos and James Marsden. The script is tricky and full of double and even triple crosses, yet it’s never too clever for its own good. The whiff of paranoia emanating from its core–a keen distrust of virtually every American institution/agency (the CIA, the DEA, the military)–is very 70’s, too, and even the objectification of its dominant female presence (the lovely Paula Patton) feels very Peckinpah-ish. You keep waiting for it to fall apart by succumbing to the 21st century Hollywood action movie tendency to go big, bigger, biggest, but it never really does. In fact, the best scenes are intimate 2-and-3 handers shot in tightly enclosed interiors. The film’s essential modesty and singular lack of pretension save the day. (B+).
New on DVD:
“Mud” – Two fourteen year-old boys (refreshingly natural screen newcomers Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) help a fugitive (a wildly charismatic Matthew McConaughey) reunite with an old girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon, deeply moving). Director Jeff (“Take Shelter”) Nichols’ unerring touch with regional details and flavoring–it was shot on location in the backwaters of Mississippi–helps catapult this indie sleeper into near-classic status. (A).
“Oblivion” – Another dystopian sci-fi adventure flick, this one directed by Joseph (“Tron Legacy”) Kosinski and starring a seen-better-days Tom Cruise. Pretty to look at–Kosinski definitely has an eye–but overly derivative (the plot feels cobbled together from a half-dozen other movies), hard to follow on a scene by scene basis and ultimately just kind of dull. I was just grateful that it wasn’t in 3-D. (C).
“On the Road” – Walter (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) Salles’ shiveringly gorgeous adaptation of the iconic Jack Kerouac novel brings the Beat Generation to vivid–and intoxicatingly erotic–cinematic life. Director of photography Eric Gautier may be the single greatest cinematographer working today. (A).
“The Place Beyond the Pines” – Like director Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 début, “Blue Valentine,” this lengthy, episodic adult drama burns with the filmmaking heat–and hubris–of the New Hollywood era. While densely novelistic in texture (think a testosterone-amped Joyce Carol Oates) and splendidly acted, it suffers from a schematic structure that gives you nothing to chew on afterwards. Cianfrance and his marvelous cast (including Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane DeHaan) held me in their grip for nearly two-and-a-half hours, but I had a hard time believing their overly determined narrative. (B).
“To the Wonder” – Another exquisitely beautiful, deeply poetic work by master filmmaker Terrence (“The Tree of Life,” “Days of Heaven”) Malick, the contemporary cinema’s foremost transcendentalist. The very fine cast includes Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylanko and Javier Bardem, but the true star of any Malick film is Malick himself. Long may he run. (A).
“West of Memphis” – Even if you’ve seen Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s “Paradise Lost” trilogy, this Peter Jackson-produced documentary about the West Memphis Three still has considerable staying power. And if you haven’t seen any of the “Paradise Lost” films, you truly can’t afford to miss it. (B+).