Genre: Heist Flick
Director: Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Mélanie LaurentThe Story: Four stage magicians perform an improbable heist live on a Vegas stage, and it’s up to a nay-saying detective and a professional debunker to thwart their next moves. The Lowdown: Convoluted and never as clever as it thinks it is. But as simple, pure entertainment, it’s none too shabby.
Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure
Director: M. Night Shyamalan (The Last Airbender)
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoë KravitzThe Story: In the distant future, a father and son crash their spacecraft onto Earth, which has now become a dangerous, uninhabitable planet for humans. The Lowdown: Despite some ambition and a surprisingly grim tone, the film suffers from its simplistic nature, silly acting and too much goofy sci-fi nonsense.
Director: Lech Majewski (Wojacek)
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Michael York, Charlotte RamplingIn Brief: Almost impossible to critique as a film, The Mill and the Cross is a true cinematic oddity. It's a strikingly visual, but dramatically lacking, recreation of Pieter Bruegel's 1564 painting The Procession to Calvary, illustrating the elements, some of the models and the political allegory behind the art. As drama, it rarely works well, but makes up for this with its stunning painterly visuals and atmosphere.
Genre: Thriller Romance Melodrama
Director: Alfred E. Green (Disraeli)
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Alan HaleIn Brief: Character and incident-packed film about the goings-on at a large train station in a slice-of-life fashion — though most train stations probably (even in 1932) don't have feds on the lookout for a counterfeiting ring or a girl being stalked by a degenerate sex-fiend on a regular basis. Those two aspects dovetail and form the main plot. Full of pre-code comedy, Warner Bros. contract players, snappy dialogue and some amazingly fluid camerawork.
Genre: Thriller Drama
Director: Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding)
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om PuriThe Story: A tale told in flashback about the transformation of an America-loving Pakistani into a radical — possibly terrorist — professor. The Lowdown: Complex cultural examination of a young Pakistani — brilliantly played by Riz Ahmed — tied to a thriller/suspense frame. It doesn't all work, but it's still compelling.
Genre: Fact-Based Comedy Drama with Music
Director: Wayne Blair
Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda TapsellThe Story: Fact-based story of an Aborigine all-girl singing group that toured as entertainers in Vietnam. The Lowdown: Despite its "true story" underpinnings, the film is largely a standard show-biz story that succeeds beautifully as entertainment — enhanced by a dynamite soundtrack and winning performances.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Roy Del Ruth (Blessed Event)
Starring: Bette Davis, Pat O'Brien, Lewis Stone, Allen Jenkins, Hugh Herbert, Glenda Farrell, Ruth DonnellyIn Brief: An overlooked gem from the pre-code era, Bureau of Missing Persons (1933) is a rich "ripped from the headlines" melodrama that's played mostly for comedy by a cast that only Warner Bros. could assemble (while borrowing Lewis Stone from MGM). Pat O'Brien is his usual machine-gun talking self as a Bureau detective who falls for young Bette Davis as a woman who's clearly not on the level and may be a murderess. We also get a variety of other cases — some played for comedy, some for drama — all packed into a breakneck 72 minutes of pure entertainment.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale)
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Charlotte D'AmboiseThe Story: The life and times of a 27-year-old dancer as she navigates an uncharted course through New York, life and relationships. The Lowdown: A sparkling, sweet, sad, funny film that might restore your faith in indie film — all built around a winning performance from Greta Gerwig (who also co-wrote the film).
Genre: Physics-Defying Action Nonsense
Director: Justin Lin (Fast Five)
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke EvansThe Story: Vin Diesel and company get brought in to catch a criminal mastermind and rescue the surprisingly resurrected Michelle Rodriguez. The Lowdown: Lots of mayhem, lots of bulked-up stars, lots of fast cars, lots of fiery explosions — and barely a brain cell in sight.
Director: Todd Phillips (The Hangover Part II)
Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, John GoodmanThe Story: The boys of the Hangover movies return, as they’re forced to track down drug dealer Chow and return the money he’s stolen before their friend is murdered by a crime boss. The Lowdown: A surprisingly straightforward and unfortunately sentimental end to the franchise that feels limp and pointless.
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