Action franchise junkie Vin Diesel returns … and more new movies!

Pub date September 6, 2013
SectionPixel Vision

Who dares to challenge the box-office supremacy of Vin Diesel, who returns yet again to play the titular night vision-gifted (but really socially awkward) escaped con in sci-fi actioner Riddick?

For masochists, there’s Brian De Palma’s latest, Passion, which checks in for a brief Castro run (Dennis Harvey gets bored talking about it here); there are also a couple of docs, a MILF drama, and a South Korean disaster-by-numbers flick about a disease that, shockingly, doesn’t spawn zombies, just bloody coughs and rapid death. Read on for our short takes (and take note of your best-bet new flick: “charming seriocomedy” Afternoon Delight).

Adore This glossy soap opera from director Anne Fontaine (2009’s Coco Before Chanel) and scenarist Christopher Hampton, adapted from a Doris Lessing novella, has had its title changed from Two Mothers — perhaps because under that name it was pretty much the most howled-at movie at Sundance this year. Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) are lifelong best friends whose hunky surfer sons Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) are likewise best mates. Widow Lil runs a gallery and Roz has a husband (Ben Mendelsohn), but mostly the two women seem to lay around sipping wine on the decks of their adjacent oceanfront homes in Western Australia’s Perth, watching their sinewy offspring frolic in the waves. This upscale-lifestyle-magazine vision of having it all — complete with middle-aged female protagonists who look spectacularly youthful without any apparent effort — finds trouble in paradise when the ladies realize that something, in fact, is missing. That something turns out to be each other’s sons, in their beds. After very little hand-wringing this is accepted as the way things are meant to be — a MILF fantasy viewed through the distaff eyes — despite some trouble down the road. This outlandish basic concept might have worked for Lessing, but Fontaine’s solemn, gauzily romantic take only slightly muffles its inherent absurdity. (Imagine how creepy this ersatz women-finding-fulfillment-at-midlife saga would be if it were two older men boning each others’ daughters.) Lord knows it isn’t often that mainstream movies (this hardly plays as “art house”) focus on women over 40, and the actors give it their all. But you’ll wish they’d given it to a better vehicle instead. (1:50) (Dennis Harvey)

Afternoon Delight It takes about five seconds to suss that Kathryn Hahn is going to give a spectacular performance in Jill Soloway’s charming seriocomedy. Figuring to re-ignite husband Jeff’s (Josh Radnor) flagging libido by taking them both to a strip club, Rachel (Hahn) decides to take on as a home- and moral-improvement project big-haired, barely-adult stripper McKenna (Juno Temple). When the latter’s car slash-home is towed, bored Silver Lake housewife and mother Rachel invites the street child into their home. Eventually she’s restless enough to start accompanying McKenna on the latter’s professional “dates.” Afternoon Delight is a better movie than you’d expect — not so much a typical raunchy comedy as a depthed dramedy with a raunchy hook. It’s a notable representation of no-shame sex workerdom. It’s also funny, cute, and eventually very touching. Especially memorable: a ladies’ round-table discussion about abortion that drifts every which way. (1:42) (Dennis Harvey)

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story Fairy tales really do come true — even when they’re as strange as the one lived by Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning illustrator, writer, and activist Tomi Ungerer. As a child, he was torn between Nazi Germany and occupied France, growing up in the Alsace region; as an artist, Ungerer possesses a creative fire fueled by the trauma of war and a bisected identity — his native Strasbourg, as he paints it with archetypal vivid colors, “is the sphincter of France. When France has indigestion, we’re the first to feel it.” In keeping with that free spirit, director Brad Bernstein playfully, beautifully captures Ungerer’s early years, from the artist’s preteen renderings of Nazi horrors, to his formative artistic inspirations, to the outpouring that followed during NYC’s golden age of illustration. In Big Apple, children’s classics like Crictor (1958), Adelaide (1959), and The Three Robbers (1961) inspired colleagues like Maurice Sendak (here in one of his last interviews) and Jules Feiffer. No niche branding and self-censorship for Ungerer, who happily fed the midcentury’s appetite for his drawings; imbued his kids tales with absurdity, fear, and his lifelong fascination with death; and created powerful anti-war posters and iconic illustrations reflecting the struggles of the ‘60s (and very adult “Fornicon” erotica as well). The latter finally ushered in a kind of closing chapter to Ungerer’s American success story, when word spread that the “kidso” favorite also did porno and his children’s books were blacklisted from libraries. Bernstein generally hastens through the decades of “exile” that followed — staying so far from some of Ungerer’s personal particulars that we never even get the name of his wife (or is it wives?) — but the time he takes to give the viewer a sense of the witty, quirk-riddled artist’s personality keeps a viewer riveted. (1:38) (Kimberly Chun)

The Flu As a shipping crate stuffed with illegal immigrants creeps into a ritzy Seoul suburb, one poor soul within stifles a cough; before long, everyone’s dead — save a crusty-eyed youth who’s apparently resistant to the disease yet still capable of kick-starting a devastating epidemic. Can the headstrong doctor (Soo Ae) save her sassy tot (Park Min-ha) from certain, blood-spewing death? Will the cocky EMT (Jang Hyuk) be able to help her, and win her heart in the process? Will the muckety-mucks in power get their shit together in time to prevent mass panic and a global outbreak? Zzzzz. Save some gnarly third-act visuals (you won’t believe what the government does with the bodies of the afflicted), this disaster movie from writer-director Kim Sung-su fails to innovate on the template laid down by films like 2011’s Contagion or 1995’s Outbreak. Also, for all the gory drama, the central storyline (re: the sick kid and the nascent couple) is completely devoid of tension, trudging for two hours toward the most predictable ending imaginable. (2:00) (Cheryl Eddy)

I Give It a Year This glossy feature writing-directing debut from longtime Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Dan Mazer has been called the best British comedy in some time — but it turns out that statement must’ve been made by people who think the Hangover movies are what comedy should be like world-wide. Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall play mismatched newlyweds (she’s stiff-upper-lippy advertising executive, he’s a manboy prankster novelist) who worry their marriage won’t last, in part because everyone tells them so — including such authorities as her bitchy sister (Minnie Driver), his obnoxious best friend (Stephen Merchant), and their incredibly crass marriage counselor (Olivia Colman). Also, they’re each being distracted by more suitable partners: she by a suave visiting American CEO (Simon Baker), he by the ex-girlfriend he never formally broke up with (Anna Faris). This is one of those movies in which you’re supposed to root for a couple who in fact really don’t belong together, and most supporting characters are supposed to be funny because they’re hateful or rude. There’s plenty of the usual strained sexual humor, plus the now-de rigueur turn toward earnest schmaltz, and the inevitable soundtrack stuffed with innocuous covers of golden oldies. Some wince-inducing moments aside, it all goes down painlessly enough — and Mazer deserves major props for straying from convention at the end. Still, one hopes the future of British comedy isn’t more movies that might just as well have starred Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. (1:37) (Dennis Harvey)

Riddick This is David Twohy’s third flick starring Vin Diesel as the titular misunderstood supercriminal. Aesthetically, it’s probably the most interesting of the lot, with a stylistic weirdness that evokes ’70s Eurocomix in the best way — a pleasing backdrop to what is essentially Diesel playing out the latest in a series of Dungeons & Dragons scenarios where he offers his wisecracking sci-fi take on Conan. Gone are the scares and stakes of Pitch Black (2000) or the cheeseball epic scale of The Chronicles of Riddick (2004); this is a no-nonsense action movie built on the premise that Riddick just can’t catch a break. He’s on the run again, targeted by two bands of ruthless mercenaries, on a planet threatened by an oncoming storm rather than Pitch Black’s planet-wide night. One unfortunate element leaves a bitter taste: the lone female character in the movie, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), is an underdeveloped cliché “Strong Female Character,” a violent, macho lesbian caricature who is the object of vile sexual aggression (sometimes played for laughs) from several other characters, including Riddick. (1:59) (Sam Stander)

Spark: A Burning Man Story A few months after kicking off DocFest — and mere days after the flames of Burning Man ’13 were extinguished — doc Spark: A Burning Man Story opens for a theatrical run. With surprisingly open access to Burning Man’s inner-circle organizers, San Francisco filmmakers Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter chronicle the organization’s tumultuous 2012 season, a time when the group was forced to confront concerns both practical (a stressful ticket-sale snafu) and philosophical (why are they selling tickets in the first place?) Spark doesn’t shy away from showing the less-graceful aspects of Burning Man’s exponential growth and transformation, but at its core it’s a fairly starry-eyed celebration of the event’s allure, reinforced by subplots that focus on artists who view “the playa” as their muse. (1:30) (Cheryl Eddy)