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Movie Reviews

  • This publicity image released by A24 Films shows, from left, Israel Broussard, Claire Vivien and Katie Chang in a scene from "The Bling Ring." (AP Photo/A24 Films, Merrick Morton)

    This publicity image released by A24 Films shows, from left, Israel Broussard, Claire Vivien and Katie Chang in a scene from "The Bling Ring." (AP Photo/A24 Films, Merrick Morton)

  • This film publicity image released by Columbia Pictures shows Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, left, in a scene from "White House Down." (AP Photo/Sony Columbia Pictures, Reiner Bajo)

    This film publicity image released by Columbia Pictures shows Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, left, in a scene from "White House Down." (AP Photo/Sony Columbia Pictures, Reiner Bajo)

  • This publicity image released by Paramount Pictures shows a scene from "World War Z."  The zombies in “World War Z” move with Carl Lewis speed and a swarm-like mentality inspired in part by rabid dogs, furthering the eternal fan debate over whether the walking dead should actually run. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

    This publicity image released by Paramount Pictures shows a scene from "World War Z." The zombies in “World War Z” move with Carl Lewis speed and a swarm-like mentality inspired in part by rabid dogs, furthering the eternal fan debate over whether the walking dead should actually run. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

  • This film publicity image released by Columbia Pictures shows, from left,  Jonah Hill, Rhianna  and Christopher Mintz-Plasse in a scene from "This Is The End."  (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Suzanne Hanover)

    This film publicity image released by Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Jonah Hill, Rhianna and Christopher Mintz-Plasse in a scene from "This Is The End." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Suzanne Hanover)

  • This film image released by Roadside Attractions shows Amy Acker, left, and Jillian Morgesen in a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing." (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Elsa Guillet-Chapuis)

    This film image released by Roadside Attractions shows Amy Acker, left, and Jillian Morgesen in a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing." (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Elsa Guillet-Chapuis)

  • This film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox shows Owen Wilson, left, and Vince Vaughn in a scene from "The Internship." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Phil Bray)

    This film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox shows Owen Wilson, left, and Vince Vaughn in a scene from "The Internship." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Phil Bray)

  • This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Adelaide Kane in a scene from "The Purge." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

    This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Adelaide Kane in a scene from "The Purge." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

  • This publicity image released by A24 Films shows, from left, Israel Broussard, Claire Vivien and Katie Chang in a scene from "The Bling Ring." (AP Photo/A24 Films, Merrick Morton)
  • This film publicity image released by Columbia Pictures shows Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, left, in a scene from "White House Down." (AP Photo/Sony Columbia Pictures, Reiner Bajo)
  • This publicity image released by Paramount Pictures shows a scene from "World War Z."  The zombies in “World War Z” move with Carl Lewis speed and a swarm-like mentality inspired in part by rabid dogs, furthering the eternal fan debate over whether the walking dead should actually run. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)
  • This film publicity image released by Columbia Pictures shows, from left,  Jonah Hill, Rhianna  and Christopher Mintz-Plasse in a scene from "This Is The End."  (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Suzanne Hanover)
  • This film image released by Roadside Attractions shows Amy Acker, left, and Jillian Morgesen in a scene from "Much Ado About Nothing." (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Elsa Guillet-Chapuis)
  • This film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox shows Owen Wilson, left, and Vince Vaughn in a scene from "The Internship." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Phil Bray)
  • This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Adelaide Kane in a scene from "The Purge." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

Movie ratings: 4 stars: Excellent; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Fair; 1 star: PoorRatings by the Motion Picture Association of America are: (G) for general audiences; (PG) parental guidance urged because of material possibly unsuitable for children; (PG-13) parents are strongly cautioned to give guidance for attendance of children younger than 13; (R) restricted, younger than 17 admitted only with parent or adult guardian; (NC-17) no one younger than 17 admitted.

“After Earth”

Will and Jaden Smith are intergalactic crash survivors, a father and son who must navigate an Edenic but inhospitable planet if they are to make it home. Based on a story by the Overbrook superstar, and directed in nicely unhurried fashion by M. Night Shyamalan, there’s a lot of cheesy corn going on here, but the sci-fi yarn — about a young man’s personal Outward Bound experience — has seamless visual effects, cool CGI beasts, and a hokey charm. 1 hr. 40 PG-13 (sci-fi action, violence, adult themes) 2 1/2 stars. — Steven Rea

“Before Midnight”

The final scene of 2004’s “Before Sunset” was so romantic it drove moviegoers crazy — happily crazy — especially because it was so tantalizingly ambiguous. Jesse and Celine, that appealing (and extremely talkative) couple played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who had fallen in love in the 1995 “Before Sunrise,” had reunited at last. In the gorgeous afternoon light of Paris, no less. But we didn’t know what would happen next. Nine years later, we have our answer, and it was sure worth the wait. “Before Midnight,” the third movie in the Richard Linklater series, is not only as good as the first two, it’s arguably better, tackling weightier, trickier issues with wit, humor and breathtaking directness. The setting is still gorgeous — it’s a summer vacation in Greece. (Will these two ever venture to an ugly locale?) But the rest is different. Delpy gives Celine a new hardness here, an edge that we saw only a bit in the previous film. And Hawke is extremely effective as a man who adores his partner but is increasingly frustrated with her. It all comes to a head in a humdinger of a fight — just Jesse and Celine in a hotel room, plus a bottle of wine that doesn’t get drunk. It gets poured, though, and you’ll be so frazzled, you’ll want to reach through the screen and chug it down yourself. Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language. 109 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

— Jocelyn Noveck, AP National Writer

“The Bling Ring”

Given that the film currently ruling the box office is about Americans encouraged by their government to indulge their homicidal urges one night a year — we’re talking about “The Purge” — it’s tempting to hail the clueless young burglars in “The Bling Ring” as veritable humanitarians. After all, they’re not out to kill or even hurt anyone. All they want is your designer shoes, your cute tops, your Rolex watches, your cash. And if you’re not a hot young celebrity they’ll leave you alone anyway. Not that Sofia Coppola’s latest film, based on a true story, isn’t chilling. It is, and not only because it displays the soulless nature of our fame-obsessed youth culture. It’s also that Coppola doesn’t judge these kids. It’s intentional, but it makes the whole enterprise a little depressing. Coppola bases her movie on a 2010 Vanity Fair article about the so-called Bling Ring, a group of mostly 19-year-olds who stole some $3 million in jewelry and designer goods from Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and others. It’s obvious that Coppola knows this milieu, what these kids wear and how they speak. Coppola has chosen newcomers for leads, and gives her most famous cast member, Emma Watson, a supporting role. She’s by far the most fun to watch. Rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and language including brief sexual references. 90 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— Jocelyn Noveck, AP National Writer

“The East”

An ex-FBI agent working for an elite private intelligence firm infiltrates an anarchist collective that’s seeking revenge against major corporations, and she finds herself torn as she starts to connect with the group. With Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page and Toby Kebbell. Written by Marling and Zal Batmanglij. Directed by Batmanglij. (1:56) PG-13.

“Epic”

A magical world of flying leaf warriors, talking slugs and faerie queens is discovered by a feisty teenager in her kooky scientist dad’s backyard. A less-than-seamless mix of fantasy and action, in this computer-animated entry from the folks behind “Ice Age.” 1 hr. 42 PG (action, cartoon violence, adult themes) 2 1/2 stars. — Steven Rea

“Fast & Furious 6”

Clearly, nobody ever told the makers of the “Fast & Furious” franchise that less is more. More is ALWAYS more — and so regular fans will be delighted with this latest installment, which again ups the ante with the cars, the crazy stunts, the crashes and the fights. Vin Diesel’s Dom, now wealthy and living the good life, is lured back into action by his erstwhile nemesis, the federal agent Hobbs (the absurdly buff Dwayne Johnson). It seems a villain named Shaw has amassed a huge military arsenal — including a big tank and a cargo jet — and is one component short of wreaking total havoc. Even more important for Dom, he has Letty working for him — she’s Dom’s former paramour, and seems to be suffering from amnesia. A welcome — indeed, crucial — element of all this is the film’s sense of humor. Especially funny are Tyrese Gibson as Roman and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej, Dom’s partners in crime. Not everyone gets out alive. As for the lucrative franchise, though, it’s clearly alive and kicking; there’s even a post-credits teaser here for the seventh film. PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and mayhem throughout, some sexuality and language. 130 minutes. Two stars out of four.

— Jocelyn Noveck, AP National Writer

“Frances Ha”

By Rene Rodriguez

The Miami Herald

Noah Baumbach’s playful, effervescent comedy “Frances Ha” is the story of a young woman’s quest to find an apartment in New York. That’s an arduous task for most ordinary, gainfully employed people. But Frances (Greta Gerwig) is neither ordinary nor employed. She’s a relentless optimist who always believes success is just around the corner, even though she’s an apprentice for a dance company that refuses to hire her full time and her longtime roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of musician Sting) announces she’s moving out of their Brooklyn apartment to live with her boyfriend.

“We’re like a lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex anymore,” Frances says, hoping her best friend won’t abandon her. But both women are edging on 30, and Frances is still behaving like a young twentysomething, taking life one day at a time, living spontaneously in the moment without giving much thought to the future.

“Frances Ha,” which Baumbach co-wrote with Gerwig (his real-life girlfriend), was shot in glorious black and white and edited with the jumpy rhythms and unexplained time lapses of the French New Wave (one wonderful scene, in which Frances runs and dances through the streets of New York to the tune of David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” feels like a direct shout-out to the romp through the museum of Godard’s “Band of Outsiders”). Instead of serving as a distraction, the filmmaking style plays off Frances’ indefatigable spirit, helping us understand how this sometimes-hapless young woman, who in one scene offers to pay for her date’s dinner but then finds out the restaurant doesn’t take debit cards, refuses to let life get her down.

For a spell, Frances becomes roommates with two hip downtown artists, one of them played by Adam Driver (HBO’s “Girls”), which helps underscore the film’s thematic similarities to that show - the coming-of-age of women who haven’t yet fully embarked on their adulthood. But the shared details are only superficial: When Frances decides to fly to Paris for a weekend (just two days, including travel time) and ends up spending the entire time by herself, you realize just how arrested the development of this charming, gawky young woman is. And even as her options dwindle and life continues to throw her curve balls, Frances refuses to give up.

The film’s closing shot, which explains the title of the movie, is the triumphant ending to a modern fairy tale about a girl whose golden heart refuses to tarnish.

3 stars

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen.

Director: Noah Baumbach.

Screenwriters: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig.

Producers: Noel Baumbach, Scott Rudin, Rodrigo Teixeira.

An IFC Films studios release. Running time: 86 minutes.

Rated R: Vulgar language, sexual situations.

“The Great Gatsby”

In the Roaring ‘20s, a Midwestern writer is drawn into the world of New York City’s upper crust, including his socialite cousin; her philandering husband; and an enigmatic, party-throwing playboy. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton. Written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce. Directed by Luhrmann. In 3-D. (2:21) PG-13.

“The Hangover Part III”

“Daring” isn’t a word you would use very much to describe 2011’s “The Hangover Part II,” the disappointingly lazy, beat-for-beat rehash of the wild and wildly successful original “Hangover” from 2009. And yet, here we are with part three, which runs a different sort of risk by going to darker and more dangerous places than its predecessors. It dares to alienate the very audience that made “The Hangover” the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time because, well, it isn’t exactly a comedy. Sure, there are some outrageous lines and sight gags, mostly courtesy of Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong, who function as central figures this time when, previously, a little bit of them went a long way. But director and co-writer Todd Phillips signals early and often that he’s much more interested than ever before in exploring matters of real consequence rather than simply mining them for brash laughs. This time, Galifianakis’ insufferable, inappropriate man-child Alan has gone off his meds and is out of control. His family and friends — including fellow “Wolfpack” members Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha) — stage an intervention and offer to drive him to a treatment center in Arizona. Clearly, this won’t be an innocuous trek through the desert. R for pervasive language including sexual references, some violence and drug content, and brief graphic nudity. 100 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

“The Heat”

What’s amazing about the comedic force that is Melissa McCarthy is how she sounds like she’s truly improvising most of the time. And so the best parts of “The Heat,” a riotous though uneven buddy cop movie directed by Paul Feig of “Bridesmaids” fame, is the repartee between McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. But first, let’s note the pop culture glass ceiling that’s happily breaking here — BOTH cops in a buddy cop flick are women! Feig and screenwriter Katie Dippold rely a bit too much on formula, the pacing is uneven, a few scenes over-the-top (and one very yucky). But put dialogue in the hands of Bullock and McCarthy, add in their obvious chemistry, and nothing can go too far wrong. And at times, you’ll be in utter hysterics. Bullock is the straight-laced, inhibited but fiercely ambitious FBI agent; McCarthy is the free-wheeling, profane, messy Boston detective with a heart in just the right place, if you can find it. Watch McCarthy react to the sight of Bullock in Spanx. Or in neatly pressed pajamas. Or the two of them dancing in a bar. Or the women sitting with McCarthy’s relatives, possibly the most dysfunctional family in the history of Boston. Jane Curtin plays Mom; the mere thought of these two together is funny, and we wish she had more screen time. R for pervasive language, strong crude content and some violence. 117 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

“The Internship”

There are really three movie stars headlining this movie: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Google. Actually, it’s a surprise Google doesn’t get top billing over the humans, so adoringly is the company displayed. But if you can get past this Mother of All Product Placements, you’ll likely find yourself chuckling a lot during Shawn Levy’s silly but warmhearted film, with a script by Vaughn and Jared Stern. Sure, it could be shorter, less predictable, more believable. But this is Vaughn and Wilson, and if their onscreen banter doesn’t quite live up to the 2005 “Wedding Crashers,” it’s still pretty darned funny. Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), watch salesmen, lose their jobs, and implausibly apply for an unpaid internship at Google. Which they implausibly get. (Their job interview, via video chat, is one of the funniest scenes.) A stern supervisor (the terrific Aasif Mandvi) describes the “Hunger Games”-like contest ahead, with only the winning intern team attaining Google employment. (Perhaps because Google helped out with the film, it is never once questioned that this is the ultimate place to work — from the free food to the nap pods to the adult-sized slides.) Generation gap jokes abound. Vaughn’s Billy keeps saying “on the line” instead of “online” — really, if he knew enough about Google to apply there, wouldn’t he know the term “online”? Still, it’s amusing. Will Billy and Nick survive their trial-by-technology? Do we really need to ask? PG-13 for sexuality, some crude humor, partying and language. 119 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

— Jocelyn Noveck, AP National Writer

“Iron Man 3”

The playboy industrialist and armored superhero Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is brought to the brink of destruction by a new enemy known as the Mandarin. With Robert Downey Jr., Ben Kingsley, Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle. Written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black. Directed by Black. In 3-D and Imax. PG-13. (2:05)

“The Lone Ranger”

There’s a limit, it turns out, to how much Johnny Depp and a bucket of makeup can accomplish. Gore Verbinski’s flamboyant re-imagination of the hokey long-running radio show and ‘50s cowboy TV series, Depp eagerly attempts to recreate the extravagant magic of his similarly farcical Jack Sparrow of Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” One would think that a so-costumed Depp careening through the Old West with Buster Keaton aplomb would make “The Lone Ranger,” at worst, entertaining. But Verbinski’s film, stretching hard to both reinvent an out-of-date brand and breathe new life in the Western with a desperate onslaught of bloated set pieces, is a poor locomotive for Depp’s eccentric theatrics. For 2 ½ hours, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced “Lone Ranger” inflates, subverts and distorts the conventions of the Western until, in an interminable climax set to the William Tell Overture, the big-budget spectacle finally, exhaustingly collapses in a scrap heap of train wreckage. A talented filmmaker of great excess, Verbinski’s ricocheting whimsy here runs off the rails. Flashback-heavy plot mechanics, occasionally grim violence (bullets land in bodies with the loudest of thwacks, a heart gets eaten) and surrealistic comedy add up to a confused tone that seems uncertain exactly how to position Depp’s Tonto in the movie, to say nothing of Armie Hammer’s wayward Lone Ranger. When Verbinski was last directing and Depp was a cartoon lizard, they crafted a far better Western in “Rango.” PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material. Running time: 149 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

“Man of Steel”

It has been a black eye for Hollywood that throughout this, the unending and increasingly repetitive age of the superhero blockbuster, the most iconic son of the comics has eluded its grasp like a bird or, if you will, a plane. New hopes of box-office riches and franchise serials rest on Zac Snyder’s latest attempt to put Superman back into flight. But Snyder’s joyless film, leaden as if composed of the stuff of its hero’s metallic nickname, has nothing soaring about it. Flying men in capes is grave business in Snyder’s solemn Superman, an origin tale of the DC Comics hero that goes more than two hours before the slightest joke or smirk. This is not your Superman of red tights, phone booth changes, or fortresses of solitude, but one of Christ imagery, Krypton politics and spaceships. Beefy Brit Henry Cavill inherits the cape, with Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer serving as his Krypton parents, and Kevin Costner (back among the corn stalks) and Diane Lane as his earthly ones. When General Zod (Michael Shannon) comes to Earth, Clark Kent must embrace his previously hidden away powers. Snyder (“300”) doesn’t have the material or inclination to make his grim film as thought-provoking as “The Dark Knight” by Christopher Nolan (a producer here). The gravity that cloaks this Superman is merely an en vogue costume. PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language. 144 minutes. Two stars out of four.

— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer

“Monsters University”

By JAKE COYLE

AP Entertainment Writer

In Pixar’s “Monsters University,” a prequel to 2001 “Monsters, Inc.,” our expert “scarers” to be — the wisecracking pipsqueak Mike Wazowski and the burly James B. Sullivan — are college freshmen with high aspirations.

Pixar, too, knows something about expectations. Thanks to the gentle poetry of “Up,” the cosmic romance of “WALL-E” and the unlikely artist portrait of “Ratatouille” (not to mention others), the mantle is high for Pixar, a paragon of pop culture.

But lately, the studio hasn’t been living up to its uniquely high standard. “Monsters University” follows two subpar efforts, “Cars 2” and “Brave,” both of which lacked Pixar’s usual inventiveness. The digital animation outfit, it turned out, is human after all.

“Monsters University” is neither a bold return to form nor another misfire, but a charming, colorful coming-of-age tale that would be a less qualified success for all but Pixar. The profusion of sequels is indeed dismaying for a studio that so frequently has prized originality. But “Monsters University” is nevertheless pleasant, amiably animated family entertainment.

A big reason is because Wazowski and Billy Crystal remain one of the best toon-voice actor combinations in animation. A lime green ball with spindly appendages, he’s little more than one big eyeball. But it’s Wazowski’s mouth that’s his dominant feature. He’s ceaselessly chipper, with a stand-up’s penchant for sarcasm.

He arrives on campus an eager, retainer-mouthed bookworm with his heart set on becoming a star pupil in Monster University’s prestigious and competitive Scare Program, and moving on to his dream career at Monsters, Inc. (Monsters fuel their world by scaring human children through the nighttime portal of closet doors.) The professional scarers are like rock stars in Monstropolis, and Wazowski, blind to his diminutive size and total lack of fright-inducing menace, dreams of making the big leagues.

For Sully (John Goodman), such a future is presumed. He’s “a Sullivan,” a legacy, the son of a famous scarer. Blessed with a powerful roar, he boasts all the natural talent Wazowski lacks. One a jock of privilege, the other a wide-eyed aspirant: Neither can stand the other.

But both find themselves kicked out of the Scare Program by the cruel Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), a kind of winged centipede. Shut to the doors of the cool kids frat, Roar Omega Roar (captained well by Nathan Fillion’s chest-pumping Johnny Worthington), Wazowski and Sully have no recourse but to join the motley gang of misfits at Oozma Kappa (“We’re OK!” they shout). Their only way back in is to win the Scare Games, a Harry Potter-like tradition of competing fraternities.

If “Monsters, Inc.” was workplace whimsy, “Monsters University” is campus comedy. Characters — widely varied in both skill sets and biology — are finding their path, often a happy deviation from their expected one. Director Dan Scanlon, a veteran Pixar storyboard artist, populates this collegiate life with rich detail and sly but not forced references.

Ultimately, the film (which is preceded by a short, “The Blue Umbrella”) makes a surprisingly sharp lesson on the hard truths of limited talent (giftedness remains an intriguing Pixar theme seen previously in “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”), but also of the great value in plucky determination. Pixar’s “Monsters University” might not be as gifted as some of its other movies, but sometimes it’s alright to be OK.

“Monsters University,” a Walt Disney release, is rated G. Running time: 103 minutes. Three stars out of four.

“Much Ado About Nothing”

Joss Whedon’s bare-bones contemporary adaptation is the cinematic equivalent of Shakespeare in the parking lot — and proof, again, that it doesn’t take much doing to bring Shakespeare to life. Whedon shot his “Much Ado” at his Los Angeles home over just 12 days immediately after production for a slightly larger film he directed: “The Avengers.” It’s almost surely the only time the Bard has been performed with a suburban golf course in the background. The verbal duel of “Much Ado” pits the proud bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) against the quick-tongued Beatrice (Amy Acker), as they sling clever put-downs back and forth, even as they’re drawn together by their scheming friends. Most of the cast (including, memorably, Nathan Fillion as the bumbling Constable Dogberry and Clark Gregg as the governor Leonato) are long-time Whedonites, veterans from his TV shows (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and films. One would expect Whedon, given his knack for wordplay, to highlight the verbal joisting and really chew the play’s choice lines. But much of the acting doesn’t make the language pop (Denisof is particularly without snap) and the wan black-and-white photography bleaches the play of its snappiness. Acker gives a likable and lithe performance, even if its lacks the commanding presence Beatrice deserves. More effort, it feels, went into making the play feel natural than making it sing. This “Much Ado” (for which Whedon also composed the music) is best considered a charming dress rehearsal. PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use. 109 minutes. Two and half stars out of four.

— Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer

“Mud”

Two boys find a fugitive hiding out on an island in the Mississippi River and pledge to help him reunite with his girl and escape. With Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard and Reese Witherspoon. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols. (2:10) PG-13.

“Now You See Me”

A Vegas magic act, headed by Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, pulls off an epic heist — “from the Vegas stage. The movie wants to be “Ocean’s Eleven” with top hats and wands, but the rapport between its principals doesn’t come close to approximating Clooney and company’s (or Sinatra and company’s) cool. And then there are the car chases ... With Michael Caine, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo. 1 hr. 52 PG-13 (profanity, action, sex, adult themes) 2 1/2 stars.— Steven Rea.

“Pacific Rim”

By JOCELYN NOVECK

AP National Writer

It’s one of the saving graces of “Pacific Rim,” Guillermo del Toro’s new mega-budget monsters vs. robots extravaganza, that at a key juncture, it knows how to make fun of itself.

This welcome bit of comic relief amid all the crunching, smashing and groaning in 3-D comes just as the good guys — that would be the robots, or rather the humans operating the 25-story machines bult to save humanity — have hit a snag. These massive, digitally controlled contraptions suddenly all fail at once.

But then — eureka! — someone points out that one rusty old robot is analog. And so, in a movie that has spent some $200 million to boast the very best in state-of-the-art tradecraft, an analog machine saves the day, at least temporarily. Ha! Holy retro technology.

It’s too bad that del Toro’s film, a throwback to the Japanese Kaiju monster films made famous by “Godzilla,” doesn’t have many more such deft moments. Though it’s made by an obviously gifted director and will likely please devotees of the genre, it ultimately feels very short on character and long on noise, noise, noise. Did we mention the crunching, smashing and groaning?

Happily, the plot is not convoluted (the script is by Travis Beacham and del Toro) and there’s at least one really cool concept, called “The Drift.” No, this doesn’t involve land formations.

It’s the mind-melding that occurs between the two pilots of each Jaeger — that’s what they call the mega-robots that humans have built to fight the monsters rising from the sea. Subjected to a pre-flight “neural handshake,” the pilots are suddenly sharing brains, the better to command their robot.

This leads to amusing dialogue, such as: “You know what I’m thinking?” Beat. “I’m in your brain!” That’s meant to be funny, but a later remark seems inadvertently so, when the hero balks at going back to battle: “I can’t have anyone in my head again!”

The real action begins some seven years into the Kaiju offensive (and circa 2020.) The Jaeger program, once successful, is failing. Global defense authorities decide to drop it and go for a giant coastal wall. Didn’t they see “World War Z?” Ask Brad Pitt: Walls don’t keep out zombies, and they won’t keep Kaiju out, either. It’s back to the Jaegers.

Enter jaded former pilot Raleigh Becket (a handsome but bland Charlie Hunnam). Raleigh lost his co-pilot and brother in a Jaeger fight, and is in no mind to share his, er, mind again. But humanity’s at stake.

His new co-pilot is a young Japanese woman named Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) with a serious beef against the Kaiju. Showy supporting parts are played by Idris Elba as the impressively named commander Stacker Pentecost; Charlie Day as a manic, nerdy scientist (but not as funny as he could be); and Ron Perlman as a shadowy Kaiju-parts dealer.

It takes a good hour for the real battle to get going. You’re glad when it does, but mostly, you wish the mind-melding concept had been mined more fully, especially since the scenes inside people’s minds show, too briefly, another, subtler side of del Toro’s talents. One arresting flashback to Mako’s youth almost seems to come from a different movie — like the dloeperloeirector’s powerful 2006 “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Too bad del Toro doesn’t share a bit more of that terrific side of his moviemaking mind with us here.

“Pacific Rim,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language.” Running time: 131 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

“The Purge”

In an America where the government has sanctioned an annual night on which all crime is legal for 12 hours, a family in a gated community is drawn into chaos when a stranger comes knocking. With Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey and Adelaide Kane. Written and directed by James DeMonaco. (1:25) R.

By Rene Rodriguez

The Miami Herald

Noah Baumbach’s playful, effervescent comedy “Frances Ha” is the story of a young woman’s quest to find an apartment in New York. That’s an arduous task for most ordinary, gainfully employed people. But Frances (Greta Gerwig) is neither ordinary nor employed. She’s a relentless optimist who always believes success is just around the corner, even though she’s an apprentice for a dance company that refuses to hire her full time and her longtime roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner, daughter of musician Sting) announces she’s moving out of their Brooklyn apartment to live with her boyfriend.

“We’re like a lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex anymore,” Frances says, hoping her best friend won’t abandon her. But both women are edging on 30, and Frances is still behaving like a young twentysomething, taking life one day at a time, living spontaneously in the moment without giving much thought to the future.

“Frances Ha,” which Baumbach co-wrote with Gerwig (his real-life girlfriend), was shot in glorious black and white and edited with the jumpy rhythms and unexplained time lapses of the French New Wave (one wonderful scene, in which Frances runs and dances through the streets of New York to the tune of David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” feels like a direct shout-out to the romp through the museum of Godard’s “Band of Outsiders”). Instead of serving as a distraction, the filmmaking style plays off Frances’ indefatigable spirit, helping us understand how this sometimes-hapless young woman, who in one scene offers to pay for her date’s dinner but then finds out the restaurant doesn’t take debit cards, refuses to let life get her down.

For a spell, Frances becomes roommates with two hip downtown artists, one of them played by Adam Driver (HBO’s “Girls”), which helps underscore the film’s thematic similarities to that show - the coming-of-age of women who haven’t yet fully embarked on their adulthood. But the shared details are only superficial: When Frances decides to fly to Paris for a weekend (just two days, including travel time) and ends up spending the entire time by herself, you realize just how arrested the development of this charming, gawky young woman is. And even as her options dwindle and life continues to throw her curve balls, Frances refuses to give up.

The film’s closing shot, which explains the title of the movie, is the triumphant ending to a modern fairy tale about a girl whose golden heart refuses to tarnish.

3 stars

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen.

Director: Noah Baumbach.

Screenwriters: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig.

Producers: Noel Baumbach, Scott Rudin, Rodrigo Teixeira.

An IFC Films studios release. Running time: 86 minutes.

Rated R: Vulgar language, sexual situations.

“This Is the End”

By TODD McCARTHY

The Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES — The seemingly exhausted gross-out comedy genre gets a strange temporary reprieve with “This Is the End,” an unlikable but weirdly compelling apocalyptic fantasy in which a bunch of young stars and stars-by-affiliation jokingly imagine their own mortality. A sort-of “The Day of the Locust” centered on successful comic actors, rather than down-and-outers, facing a conflagration in Los Angeles, this is a dark farce that’s simultaneously self-deprecating, self-serving, an occasion to vent about both friends and rivals and to fret about self-worth in a cocooned environment. With everyone here officially playing themselves, the result is like a giant home movie and a reality horror show, different enough from anything that’s come before to score with young audiences.

With the “Hangover” series outliving its welcome, Judd Apatow moving on to quasi-serious stuff and Johnny-come-latelies like “21 & Over” and “Movie 43” falling short, outrageous comedies aren’t what they used to be a few years back. Early on in “This Is the End,” James Franco and Seth Rogen explore story ideas for a possible “Pineapple Exprss” sequel, but it’s hard to know, five years on, what the public appetite would be even for that.

Instead, Rogen and co-writer/co-director Evan Goldberg reached back to 2007 for inspiration, to a nine-minute short they and Jason Stone made called “Seth and Jay Versus the Apocalypse.” It is said to have cost $3,000 and starred five of the six main actors from the present feature — Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Franco, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride.

The central conceit is that this is a film about showbiz’s young and privileged that’s supposedly being honest about their sense of entitlement, their access to constant sex, drugs and money, neuroses and special bonds both professional and personal. This isn’t Franco and Rogen and Michael Cera and everyone else playing characters getting completely trashed on coke and weed, this is a movie in which audiences can get off seeing actual movie stars behaving like stupid rich frat boys. At least that’s the sense of special access “This Is the End” is purporting to afford the eager viewer.

The occasion is a housewarming party at Franco’s dazzling new house (“Designed it myself” the famously multitasking actor-writer-director-grad student modestly points out). The first 15 minutes are crammed with pretty funny party banter, star sightings — Emma Watson, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling and Cera getting serviced by two babes at the same time — and the overweening discomfort of Baruchel, who’s come down from Canada to visit his best bud Rogen and outdoes Woody Allen in his expressions of distaste for L.A. and the people who live there, especially the hated Hill, with whom he’s now obliged to hang.

But in a startling manner as if co-devised by Nathaniel West and Irwin Allen, a Biblical-scale disaster strikes in the form of explosions, rumblings, the ground opening up, fires raging, cars crashing and shafts of light beaming down from the heavens. Los Angeles is burning and many guests are swallowed up by a lava-filled sink-hole while others flee into the acrid night. In the end, those left in the seeming sanctuary of Franco’s crib are Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Crai Robinson and Franco, who arms himself with a World War I-vintage pistol left over from “Flyboys.”

“This Is the End” goes places you don’t expect it to, exploring the guys’ rifts and doubts and misgivings just as it wallows in an extravagant lifestyle that inevitably attracts public fascination. It also expresses the anxiety and insecurity of comics conscious of the big issues in life they are expected either to avoid or make fun of in their work. Rogen and Goldberg take the latter approach here, in an immature but sometimes surprisingly upfront way one can interpret seriously. Or not.

“This Is the End,” a Sony/Columbia release, is rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence. Running time: 107 minutes.

“Star Trek into Darkness”

J.J. Abrams’ reboot sequel is as good, if not better, as the 2009 “Star Trek.” James T. Kirk is in trouble with the admiralty, Spock and Uhura are having a lovers’ spat, and a new bad guy (Benedict Cumberbatch) threatens to wreak havoc across the universe. Smart, fun, with exhilirating action and spectacular visual effects. Beam us up, Scotty. 1 hr. 52 PG-13 (violence, interspecies sex, adult themes) 3 1/2 stars — Steven Rea

“Stories We Tell”

Actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley’s smart and revelatory investigation into the life of her mother, Diane, who died when Polley was 11. An extraordinary meditation on family, memory, truth, love, fidelity — at once intimate and personal, and universal. 1 hr. 48 PG-13 (profanity, adult themes) 4 stars. — Steven Rea

“White House Down”

By JAKE COYLE

AP Entertainment Writer

Staggeringly implausible, cartoonishly comical, Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down” is refreshingly dumb.

Refreshing because carefree action absurdity, once the province of the summer cinema, is on the outs. Solemnity — even for caped, flying men in tight-fitting trousers — is in.

But there’s an inarguable, senseless pleasure in watching Jamie Foxx, as the president of the United States, kicking a terrorist and shouting: “Get your hands off my Jordans!” Hail to the chief, indeed.

“White House Down” follows Antoine Fuqua’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” released in March, as the second movie this year to imagine an assault on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The two films are very similarly plotted, but “White House Down” is notably less serious, more content to loosen the strings and acknowledge its own inherent preposterousness.

This becomes particularly crystalized somewhere around the time Foxx’s President James Sawyer and his rescuer, Channing Tatum’s wannabe secret service agent, are careening across the White House lawn in the president’s limo while terrorists shoot in pursuit. Onlookers behind a fence — media, regular people, the Army — merely gape in awe, as if frozen by the idiocy.

“White House Down” is most entertaining when it’s a simple, ludicrous buddy movie, with Tatum and Foxx fleeing across the White House grounds, dropping one-liners as they go, eluding a gang of assailants led by a bitter turncoat (James Woods) and his ferocious henchmen (including Jason Clarke, swapping sides in the war on terror following “Zero Dark Thirty”).

This is a kind of coronation for Tatum as a movie star. He’s now reached the level that he can breeze through a blatantly silly movie and look none the worse for it. He’s John Cale (not to be confused with the Velvet Underground musician, although, how could you?), a Silver Star veteran of Afghanistan and a police bodyguard to the speaker of the house (Richard Jenkins).

For his Secret Service interview at the White House, he’s brought along his politics-obsessed 11-year-old daughter (the promising Joey King). But it goes poorly, partly because his would-be boss turns out to be an old flame (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who doubts he’s grown up. There’s some reason to believe her, since Cale (in the mold of most action heroes) is an absentee, divorced dad.

It’s an archetype defined by Bruce Willis in “Die Hard,” a movie “White House Down” apes right down to the wife-beater tank top. When the Capitol dome is detonated and the White House invaded, Cale is separated from his daughter and stumbles into the kidnapping of the president. From there, it’s a series of chases through the handsome, recreated halls of the White House, where golden light filters in through venetian blinds but seemingly scant security measures exist.

Emmerich, the director of spectacles like “Independence Day” (a movie he references in “White House Down”) and “2012,” has made blowing up the White House something of a fetish, having already done it in both of those movies. It’s a style of blockbuster that now feels dated, like a ‘90s kind of big-budget moviemaking that depends on explosions, flashes of comedy and star charisma.

The charm of Tatum — toned but goofy — carries the film. Foxx, a more gifted comic actor, is left off-screen for large chunks. His president is a kind of liberal fantasy version of Barrack Obama, boldly removing all troops from the Middle East, thereby sparking the fury of the Beltway’s white power players.

If “White House Down” had pushed the farce further, Emmerich’s overlong romp could have been something special. But the comedy in James Vanderbilt’s screenplay only comes in spurts.

Many of its biggest laughs don’t come when they’re cued up, but at the film’s attempts at emotion. Woods, for example, gravely announces: “Killing Ted Hope was the second hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life.” If stripped of its production value, “White House Down” would make one hysterical off-Broadway one-act.

“White House Down,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image. Running time: 137 minutes. Two stars out of four.

“World War Z”

Might there be a real zombie apocalypse one day? The way zombies have invaded our pop culture the last several years, it’s maybe a bit less implausible than it once was. What IS increasingly quite plausible, alas, is a global pandemic, and “World War Z,” the long-awaited Brad Pitt thriller, cleverly melds that real-life threat into the more fanciful zombie premise. Talk about more bang for your buck: Once you’ve settled back into your seat after a good snarling zombie chase, there’s nothing like the thought of a SARS outbreak to get the blood racing again. Despite the much-discussed production delays and budget overruns, this movie, based on the 2006 novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel), is pretty much what you’d want in a summer blockbuster: scary but not-too-gross zombies, a journey to exotic locales, a few excellent action scenes, and did we mention Pitt? As Gerry Lane, a former U.N. investigator called upon to save the planet, Pitt is a calm, intelligent presence amid the insanity. The most impressive scene is at the beginning, as the streets of Philadelphia are suddenly overrun by packs of wild, raging zombies. For an hour, the action is swift: North Korea, Israel, a harrowing plane crash. The final act takes place on a dramatically smaller scale, and at a slower pace. Oh, a reminder: Turn off those cellphones. After all, it’s not just your movie-going partner you’ll annoy here. Cellphones also happen to awaken zombies. Consider yourself warned. PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images. 116 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— Jocelyn Noveck, AP National Writer

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