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Earth to Echo

Echo 2

Armed with their bicycles, a set of hand held cameras, and the bonds of childhood friendship, a group of friends embark on a night-long adventure to help an adorable alien in EARTH TO ECHO. With a team of government agents and scientists hot on their heels, the kids are in a race against time to help the eponymous Echo repair his spaceship and travel home. 

It doesn’t take a canny eye to see the striking similarities between this film and the Spielberg classic E.T. Aside from the obvious parallels in plot, EARTH TO ECHO’s marketing campaign has relied heavily on nostalgia. One notable film poster even depicts an outstretched finger moments from touching Echo as an homage to E.T.’s infamous glowing red finger.  Read the rest of this entry »

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22 Jump Street

© 2014 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

© 2014 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

21 JUMP STREET took me by surprise; while its true that comedy is mostly subjective, comedic reboots of nostalgic television series are usually fodder for the cheap DVD bin at Wal-Mart. Much like the rest of the world, I was surprised at just how much I ended up enjoying 21 JUMP STREET, due in no small part to the finger that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have on the pulse of the modern comedy landscape. Truth told, after the first installment, I didn’t think I could laugh harder at a film; upon viewing 22 JUMP STREET, I’m proud to announce that I was wrong.

Undercover officers Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) are back in school tracking down the drug dealers and suppliers responsible for the proliferation of a designer drug at a local college. If this sounds suspiciously similar to the plot of the first film, then congratulations! You get the joke. 22 JUMP STREET hinges a lot of its humor on the idea of this film as a sequel, taking pot shots at the idea that the buddy cop duo needs to do more of the same since it worked so well the first time. The film never takes itself seriously, maintaining a fresh self-awareness that is able to expertly blend meta humor with a narrative that still builds on the Schmidt / Jenko relationship. Read the rest of this entry »

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Belle

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Inspired by true events, BELLE tells the story of a mixed race woman named Dido Elizabeth Belle who is born the illegitimate daughter of a British Royal Navy Admiral. Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) only knows her father for a few moments before he sets sail, leaving her in the care of her great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson). With wealth and lineage supporting her, Dido exists in a unique yet lonely layer of England’s class-conscious society, above slaves and commoners, but never truly accepted by the aristocracy because of the color of her skin. After meeting a vicar’s son, Dido finds both her passions and her convictions ignited, and her beliefs are soon pitted against Lord Mansfield’s as the fate of slavery in England hangs in the balance.

Often with dramatic period pieces, performances are stilted and dialogue is unwieldy, a symptom of filmmakers struggling with showcasing propriety while still allowing characters to be believable and engaging. BELLE avoided such conventions, allowing the cast to wear their characters as comfortably as an old, broken-in jacket. The dialogue at the beginning of the film is perhaps a bit stilted, but this seems intentional as a means to show Dido conforming to high-society’s guidelines. As she finds her own path, the film progressively opens up, allowing a full range of emotions, from joy, to self-hatred, to love, to uncertainty to rule the characters.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

The comedic beats in BELLE were the most surprising, and most welcome, addition. Penelope Wilton has very little overall screen time, but every second that she portrays Lady Mary Murray, the spinster governess who manages Kenwood House, is comedic gold. Director Amma Asante allows Wilton’s nuanced facial expressions and impeccable sense of timing provide mirth to a film the juggles weighty issues. Miranda Richardson is also at the top of her game here, playing a money-hungry noble with her eyes on Dido’s fortune.

As the titular Belle, Gugu Mbatha-Raw emerges as a powerhouse of an actress with the right blend of charisma and poise to nail her performance. Perhaps the most powerful scene of the film features Mbatha-Raw facing a mirror, slowly and mournfully trying to wipe away her skin color. While this isn’t exactly a novel sequence in and of itself, Mbatha-Raw wisely chooses to use a subtle hand during this scene instead of giving way to maudlin over-acting or histrionics. This helps cement Dido’s confusion; she feels both cursed by her skin color, and blessed than she is awarded freedoms that are awarded to neither black women nor wealthy white women who are forced to marry as soon as they come of age.

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Despite my praise, BELLE is not a perfect movie. The sound design is awkward, with the film’s beautiful score often blaring over scenes that might thrive with a more subtle approach, and Tom Felton is a bit too on-the-nose as the dastardly James Ashford. Still, these are minor quibbles. BELLE is a most satisfying film, one that is pleasing to both the eye and to the heart, and should not be missed by any fans of historical dramas.

BELLE can be seen in limited markets now, with theatrical openings in Austin at Violet Crown Cinema and Regal Arbor Cinemas on 5/23/14.

4 / 5

William Lindus
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The Hornet’s Nest

Hornet's Nest PosterAs someone who has never served in the military or seen combat first-hand, the nature of warfare has long been the stuff of movies to me. THE HORNET’S NEST, a documentary featuring the footage of war correspondent Mike Boettcher, has come closer than any piece of media to providing me with a glimpse of the harsh reality of the war in Afghanistan. In some ways, it is a difficult film to watch; the tension is uncomfortably palpable, and the stakes are 100% real. Combining POV footage and voice-over narration, Boettcher becomes the avatar for the audience, allowing us to experience vicariously the terror of being caught in the middle of a firefight.

THE HORNET’S NEST wastes no time dropping us into the action. The scene opens on a company of soldiers under heavy fire, trapped between Taliban units hidden in the trees. Bullets whiz over head, ricocheting off rocks, as soldiers yell commands at one another and return fire. The film starts with no context, only tension; the film then rewinds the clock to several months prior, when Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos being their tour in Afghanistan. Mike and Carlos’s relationship has been rocky, with Mike skipping many family functions over the years due to time spent covering foreign wars. The two have decided to use this trip as a bonding exercise, which provides an emotional anchor to the film.
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The Love Punch: A Swing and a Miss

The Love PunchIn THE LOVE PUNCH, divorced couple Richard (Pierce Brosnan) and Kate (Emma Thompson) discover that a corrupt businessman has bought out their business and run it into the ground. Now bankrupt, the pair embark on a trip to the South of France to steal a priceless, multimillion dollar jewel that the businessman has given to his supermodel girlfriend for their wedding. 

As you might expect from the premise, THE LOVE PUNCH is as much about the rekindling of the relationship between Richard and Kate as it is about the heist itself. Pierce Brosnan is a safe bet when casting a romantic comedy, bringing irresistible charm to every line. Likewise, Emma Thompson is an actress for whom I have a great deal of respect as both a leading lady and as a supporting actress due to her poise and pedigree. In spite of the film’s underwhelming script, the two are perfectly paired in this film, displaying a natural chemistry that makes the inevitable and obvious ‘will they / won’t they’ plot more endearing than I was expecting.

The film runs on rapid fire comedy that is as much miss as it is hit. A few of the gags connect, particularly those that are self-aware of the absurdity of an older couple planning a caper. More often, though, the jokes fall flat. Thompson, Brosnan, and supporting cast members Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall do their best to bring life and energy to the comedic beats, but the frenetic pace of the script opts for quantity over quality.

The details of the heist itself are mostly forgettable; the circumstances are contrived and the antagonists are over the top caricatures. In some films, this would be damning, but here, the caper is so secondary to the romantic themes that it almost doesn’t matter. THE LOVE PUNCH caters to a very specific, very niche audience. As a rom com for a more mature couple’s date night, you could do much worse. Otherwise, THE LOVE PUNCH would be more suitable as a lazy Sunday afternoon film than as a theatrical outing.

THE LOVE PUNCH opens in limited markets, including Phoenix, on May 23, 2014.

2 / 5

 

William Lindus
williamlindus@moviebears.com
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Cracking DOM HEMINGWAY

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight, 2014

Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight, 2014

Clocking in at a brisk runtime of 93 minutes, DOM HEMINGWAY is a curious film that somehow manages to be both too ambitious and too short at the same time. Director Richard Shepard certainly knows the type of stories he wants to tell about the titular Dom Hemingway, a London safe-cracker looking for his place in the world after serving a 12 year stint in prison. Through the film, Hemingway struggles with readjusting to a world that has left him in the dust over the past decade of isolation, tries to collect on an old debt, longs for a relationship with his daughter and grandchild, and tries to reintegrate himself into the criminal underground. 

Each of these story elements holds the potential for solid story telling, but the break-neck pace of the film rushes Dom from situation to situation without every allowing a scene to breath. A longer run time  or a more judicious editing hand with the script may have solved this fatal problem, allowing either more time for plot points to play out, or elimination extraneous sequences. Instead, we’re left with the film that fails to cram four fully realized acts into a three act structure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wise Guys Don’t ROB THE MOB

ROB THE MOBFilled with more bravado than common sense, young lovers Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie (Nina Arianda) embark on a series of robberies targeting Mafia social clubs Raymond de Felitta’s ROB THE MOB. Armed with an uzi and a get away car, Tommy and Rosie discover that mobsters don’t bring guns to their social clubs, making them easy marks. Since the Mafia is an illegal operation that thrives by staying just off the radar, reporting these robberies to the police is impossible. However, when Tommy and Rosie stumble across a list outlining the names and ranks of the entire operation, they find themselves the focal point of the attention of the mob, law enforcement agencies, and a curious reporter. 

ROB THE MOBIt is a challenge to classify a film like ROB THE MOB. The absurdity of Tommy’s actions, and his unwillingness to believe that he might be making obvious mistakes, adds an awkward humor to the script, amplified by his near-bumbled heists. One of the funniest sequences of the film occurs as Tommy struggles with his uzi during a robbery, then accidentally sprays bullets recklessly around the bar. ROB THE MOB also showcases poignant dramatic sequences that ground the story and keep it from going off the rails. In a way, this lack of focus could be viewed as confusion on the part of the filmmaker, and indeed, some of the film’s pacing felt a tad clumsy. That said, the film’s identity confusion provides a happy accident of sorts, keeping it from straying too far into either screwball or maudlin territory.

Be it a drama or a comedy, at its core, ROB THE MOB is a love story between a pair of young lovers who simply don’t know any better. It would be easy to paint the pair as simple, clueless thieves who bite of more than they can chew, but ROB THE MOB lets the characters display exuberant passion and a dim charm that makes them impossible to root against. Fans of films like TRUE ROMANCE or BONNIE AND CLYDE should appreciate the spirit of the romance, even if the lovers find themselves involved in a self-inflicted precarious balancing act between what’s right and what’s profitable. Nina Arianda stands out amongst an already talented cast, cracking a sincere, if goofy grin whenever the film starts to take itself too seriously.

ROB THE MOB
The film suffers a bit by trying to provide too many emotional layers to its supporting cast. From the weary mob boss (Andy Garcia) to the special agent (Frank Whaley) to the investigative report (Ray Ramano), everyone whose lives are touched by Tommy and Rosie ends up embarking on an emotional journey to evaluate their own actions. With more balance, this might have been effective, but here, it comes across as merely ham-fisted. This results in a defanged Mafia that are viewed in a bizarrely nostalgic light in some sequences of the film, surely against de Felitta’s intentions.

ROB THE MOB tries to be too many things to be considered a great film, but the love affair between Tommy and Rosie and the charismatic performances by Pitt and Arianda are enough to make it a good film. If you’re the type of person that enjoys seeing love thrive despite challenging circumstances, ROB THE MOB might just steal your heart.

7 / 10

William Lindus
williamlindus@moviebears.com
thelinduslist.jux.com
thelinduslist.com
moviebearspodcast.com
#moviebears

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