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.
Director: Jack Clayton (Our Mother's House)
Starring: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern, Sam Waterston, Karen BlackIn Brief: Jack Clayton's 1974 film of The Great Gatsby is a good-looking, seriously miscast, painfully earnest attempt at capturing the novel. It's respectful of Fitzgerald's book to the point of calcification, but if you're looking for a film that gives you the story without disturbing anyone, this is it. It's not bad. It's just pretty much lacking in excitement.
Genre: Animated Fantasy
Director: Chris Wedge (Ice Age)
Starring: (Voices) Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Beyoncé KnowlesThe Story: A shrunken teenage girl joins in to save a woodland society of tiny people — and assorted creatures — from destruction. The Lowdown: Nice to look at and skillfully executed with good voice acting, but overall average in the story department.
Genre: Biographical Drama
Director: Jane Campion (Bright Star)
Starring: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, Iris Churn, Kevin J. WilsonIn Brief: A long, fairly leisurely paced biographical drama is drawn from the autobiography of New Zealand writer Janet Frame — a woman whose withdrawn shyness caused her to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and confined in a mental hospital. Told in three parts, the film examines her story with the kind of insight and humanity associated with Campion, and offers rewards for viewers who can tap into the approach and pace.
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.
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