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Friday movie roundup: August clearance sale
There's a little something for everybody at the movies this weekend — as Hollywood's August clearance sale continues.
The weekend's likely box-office champ is "The Expendables 3," the new installment in the action franchise that gives old warhorses like Sylvester Stallone a chance at continuing their careers. Stallone returns as Barney Ross, the over-the-hill mercenary who decides to recruit a new team — including "Twilight" hunk Kellan Lutz and MMA women's champion Ronda Rousey — to pursue Ross' compatriot-gone-bad, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, adding some spark). Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes and Kelsey Grammer are among the old faces who are new here, adding a casting overload to the movie's action overkill.
"The Giver" adapts Lois Lowry's beloved 1993 teen novel, about a "perfect" future society where emotion and differences have been leached out of people's minds. The action, which follows a teen (Brendon Thwaites) who learns the truth and upends the status quo, is standard. What's worthwhile are the veteran performers, Jeff Bridges as the wise Giver of memory and Meryl Streep as the sinister Chief Elder.
The romantic comedy "What If" also follows formula, in depicting the friendship between a med-school dropout (Daniel Radcliffe) and an animator (Zoe Kazan) — and asking the old "When Harry Met Sally…" question of whether men and women can be "just friends." Raising the bar here are the script's witty dialogue, and a charming cast that includes Adam Driver ("Girls") and Mackenzie Davis ("Halt and Catch Fire"). By the way, some of the scenes in "The Giver" were filmed in Utah. (Read The Cricket's interview with Mackenzie Davis.)
Last, and certainly least, among the studio fare is "Let's Be Cops" (which opened Wednesday), a buddy comedy that has jokes and good taste in equal supply — none. "New Girl" co-stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. play two losers who dress up in authentic LAPD uniforms, and get carried away with the prestige and power that come with the clothes. Then they run into some real criminals who think they're the real deal. The underdeveloped script leaves Johnson and Wayans lamely trying to improvise their way out of trouble, to no avail.
The Utah-made "Saints and Soldiers: The Void" is a tightly paced World War II drama that mixes combat action with a powerful message. At the end of the war in Europe, a U.S. tank crew is sent on a mopping-up mission that turns into a life-or-death battle with three Panzer tanks — and the U.S. crew must team with an African-American sergeant (Danor Gerald) from a segregated Army unit. Director-writer Ryan Little deftly mixes the inspirational aspects with solid battle scenes.
The best new movie on the art-house slate is "Calvary," writer-director John Michael McDonagh's dark Irish drama about a parish priest (Brendan Gleeson) who is told in confessional that he will be murdered. This revelation causes the priest to question his value to his parishioners, and to wonder which one might be planning to kill him. McDonagh raises some thorny issues about the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, and about faith in general, while giving Gleeson a showcase to explore a complex, troubled character.
Speaking of complex characters, "The Dog" is a fascinating documentary that explores the life of John Wojtowicz, the Brooklyn bank robber who inspired Sidney Lumet's 1975 heist movie "Dog Day Afternoon." Wojtowicz' story is messier than Lumet's version, and the documentary explores the early days of New York's gay-rights movement (in which Wojtowicz played a small part) and how he came to believe the fantasy of his movie persona. The Tower is showing the original "Dog Day Afternoon" along with the documentary, so it's a great chance to see a classic on the big screen.
Lastly, there's "Magic in the Moonlight," the uninspired comedy from Woody Allen. Colin Firth stars as an illusionist, circa 1928, who aims to debunk a young psychic (Emma Stone) but finds himself attracted to her instead. The humor is lackluster, the story predictable, and the chemistry non-existent. But at least the Provence locations are pretty.