Film Reviews: 'One Direction: This Is

A critical digest of the week’s latest U.S. theatrical releases. Where applicable, links to longer reviews have been provided.

One Direction: This Is Us
Distributor: Sony
Once one reaches a certain age, the procession of teen pop idols becomes a cruel reminder of the passage of time and the inevitability of death. For any non-teenager attending Morgan Spurlock’s concert documentary “One Direction: This Is Us,” intimations of mortality will be felt most strongly during the “classic cover song” section of the group’s set, wherein the boy band reaches all the way back to Blondie’s “One Way or Another” and Wheatus’ 2000 golden oldie “Teenage Dirtbag.” Yet the film’s central fivesome prove charming pallbearers throughout the film, which alternates between inspired and insipid as it hits its hagiographic marks. Directioners should show up in full force.
— Andrew Barker
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Closed Circuit
Distributor:
Focus Features
Opening a week after Bradley Manning’s sentencing in the U.S., where significant portions of the case were held in secret to protect national security, British courtroom thriller “Closed Circuit” challenges the validity of policies that shield key evidence from public scrutiny. Since the topic itself isn’t especially sexy, screenwriter Steven Knight cooks up a plot in which a pair of defense lawyers who were once a couple find themselves on opposite sides of the secrecy divide, injecting romantic intrigue into this slick, smarter-than-usual conspiracy yarn — a late-summer counter-programmer for those who prefer brain stimulation to having their eyeballs and eardrums pummeled.
— Peter Debruge
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Getaway
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Those seeking an object lesson in the relative value of art and commerce in Hollywood need look no further than Ethan Hawke, who kicked off the summer movie season with Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” and now brings it to a close with “Getaway,” another tale of an American expat winding his way through an exotic foreign locale. Only here, instead of thoughtful discourse about love and sex and aging against the stunning vistas of Greece, we get the grinding gears of a souped-up Shelby Mustang racing through grimy Bulgaria with It Girl Selena Gomez in tow. Arriving in theaters on the sputtering exhaust of producer Joel Silver’s longtime Warner Bros. deal, this booby prize of a parting gift may nevertheless score some quick cash from undiscriminating Labor Day moviegoers hoping against hope for some “Fast & Furious”-level thrills.
— Scott Foundas
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Passion
Distributor:
IFC Films
“Passion” is an eye-candy parade of kinky couplings, slashed bodies, voyeuristic thrills, Hitchcockian allusions and Sapphic overtones — which is to say, it’s a new picture by Brian De Palma. Essentially taking Alain Corneau’s corporate thriller “Love Crime” and sticking it in blood-red platform heels, this tarted-up English-language remake affords some modestly campy pleasures, but lacks the delirious trash-horror verve of De Palma’s best work. Even the juicy lead pairing of Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, which promises solid international play, can’t quite make this lurid but lukewarm divertissement seem worthy of its title.
— Justin Chang
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The Lifeguard
Distributor:
Focus World/Screen Media Films
Defying conventional wisdom, a former valedictorian discovers that not only can she go home again, she can even shag a hot high schooler in the process, steaming up some otherwise stagnant soul-searching in Liz W. Garcia’s tawdry “The Lifeguard.” Kristen Bell bucks her good-girl image in a role that suggests how a twisted 10-year reunion might look had Veronica Mars become a sexy New York reporter, hit a wall and been forced back to suburbia. Drowning in self-pity is about as fun to watch as it sounds, however, which will mean difficulty getting people interested for any but prurient reasons.
— Peter Debruge
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Afternoon Delight
Distributor:
The Film Arcade
In “Afternoon Delight,” the feature bow of smallscreen scribe-producer Jill Soloway (“United States of Tara”), a familiar sitcom premise — a marriage that has lost its zing — literally gets tarted up when the wife takes a shine to a young sex worker and moves her into the family home. Although there are moments when it feels the plot might move in unexpected directions, in the end, the expected cliches reign. Visually undistinguished, with some good lines but broad performances, the pic is most likely to reach an audience beyond smug marrieds and urban hipsters in home formats.
— Alissa Simon
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Abigail Harm
Distributor:
Quad Cinema, New York
A Korean folk tale is transferred to contempo New York in “Abigail Harm,” an uneven fantasy-flavored art movie toplining Amanda Plummer as a loner whose yearning for love magically materializes in the shape of a handsome young man. The third feature by Korean-American helmer Lee Isaac Chung (“Munyurangabo”) establishes an intriguing ambience, but the original tale’s ruminations on free will and the fundamental need for humans to connect with each other are muffled by a minimalist approach to storytelling. Pic should have a decent future on the fest circuit, but faces a daunting challenge in the commercial arena.
— Richard Kuipers
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Tokyo Waka
Venue:
Film Forum, New York
John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson’s lyrically meditative docu “Tokyo Waka” focuses on the titular city and its 20,000 crows. The result seems somewhat scattershot at first; no overarching throughline determines the sequence of human and/or avian activity filmed and commented upon by various residents, ornithologists, city officials and artists. But the patterns of movement that sweep through, horizontally and vertically, effectively capture the city’s rhythms: Snow and cherry blossoms fall, pedestrians stream through intersections, crows wheel in the sky or perch on rooftops in Hitchcockian numbers. Playing at New York’s Film Forum, “Waka” offers a rewarding ride for viewers who can go with the flow. 
— Ronnie Scheib
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American Made Movie
Distributor:
Life Is My Movie Entertainment
Examining the vast economic catastrophe caused by America’s loss of its manufacturing base, helmers Nathaniel Thomas McGill and Vincent Vittorio, assisted by various talking heads (trade lawyers, tax analysts, professors and Federal Comptrollers), paint a devastating picture of a deeply indebted nation stuck with runaway unemployment, proliferating ghost towns and a whopping trade deficit. They next propose small-scale, grassroots remedies, providing upbeat anecdotal illustrations: A maker of hand-crafted jewelry, the head of a welding company and the CEO of a shoe manufactory first flourish, then flounder and finally reinvigorate themselves on a wave of Made in America-fueled consumer demand. The idea that patriotic entrepreneurs, factory-recruiting towns and ordinary citizens willing to splurge on locally produced goods could reverse the downward trend might seem palatable if the filmmakers had not absolved giant, outsourcing corporations by dint of their apparently inviolable moral duty to increase shareholders’ profits.  “American Made Movie” falls short on practical solutions.
— Ronnie Scheib

Wampler’s Ascent
Distributor:
Hollywood Locations
“Wampler’s Ascent” has a whopper of an inspirational subject in Steve Wampler, a 42-year-old father of two with cerebral palsy who spent six days climbing Yosemite National Park’s daunting El Capitan in 2010. It also has Wampler’s own wife, Elizabeth, serving as tyro helmer. Resolutely sappy and sometimes amateurish, the briskly paced doc remains heartfelt and direct about the same admirable mission Wampler had in making the climb: to raise money and awareness for his own Wampler Foundation, a wilderness camp for physically disabled kids.
— Geoff Berkshire
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Tiny Times 2
Distributor:
China Lion
Original title: “Tiny Times 2.0″
Full of bitchiness, pillow talk and gay subtext, plus skirts that trail for yards, “Tiny Times 2″ is a sexier affair than “Tiny Times,” the Shanghai-set tween girl-power fantasy directed and adapted from his own book by Guo Jingming, mainland China’s highest-earning novelist. Though this sequel is just as glossy and shallow as its predecessor, the story gets juicier as the four femme friends transform from kittens to lynxes in the wake of boy troubles and corporate takeovers. A confident manifesto on the materialistic ambitions of China’s post-’90 generation, Guo’s pic should continue the first film’s winning streak at the local box office, followed by a possible Stateside bow.
— Maggie Lee
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Dark Tourist
Distributor:
Phase 4 Films
Character actor Michael Cudlitz’s first leading role is the sole selling point of “Dark Tourist,” a well-acted but rote and ultimately repellent character study of a psychologically disturbed loner. Bleak and ponderous picture feels much longer than its 80-minute running time and manages none of the lurid pull of its varied influences, including “Taxi Driver,” “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and “The Crying Game.” Unsurprisingly, limited theatrical exposure was a dead end, while simultaneous VOD release seems a better bet to attract feel-bad junkies.
— Geoff Berkshire
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The Last Christeros
Venue:
Anthology Film Archives, New York
The final days of a band of 1930s Christian rebels in the central Mexican wilderness are depicted with majestic stoicism in Matias Meyer’s elegant ode to independence, “The Last Christeros.” Although the project is the product of considerable research as well as an adaptation of Antonio Estrada’s acclaimed novel “Rescoldo, the Last Christeros,” the film is free of factoidal narrative, and has been de-dramatized to convey the experience of being a guerrilla fighter. This will seriously limit commercial potential, though fests should be in passionate demand.
— Robert Koehler
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