Film Reviews: Opening This Week (April 15-19, 2013)

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

Distributor: Universal
Although Universal’s publicity department has asked that journalists refrain from spilling the secrets of “Oblivion,” the major revelations, once they arrive, will hardly surprise anyone familiar with “Total Recall,” “The Matrix” and the countless other sci-fi touchstones hovering over this striking, visually resplendent adventure. Pitting the latest action-hero incarnation of Tom Cruise against an army of alien marauders, director Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to “Tron: Legacy” is a moderately clever dystopian mindbender with a gratifying human pulse, despite some questionable narrative developments along the way. The less-than-airtight construction and conventional resolution may rankle genre devotees, though hardly to the detriment of robust overall B.O.
— Justin Chang
Read the full review

In the House
Cohen Media Group
A manipulative student (Ernst Umhauer) hooks his high school lit teacher (Fabrice Luchini) with a series of scandalous stories written for class in Francois Ozon’s “In the House.” More inspired by than adapted from Juan Mayorga’s play “The Boy in the Last Row,” this low-key thriller feels like a return to form for Ozon, whose pics lost their psychosexual edge after the helmer stopped collaborating with Emmanuele Bernheim (“Swimming Pool”). Here, he returns to the intriguing, barely post-pubescent trouble explored in “Criminal Lovers” and “Sitcom.”
— Peter Debruge
Read the full review

The Lords of Salem
Distributor: Anchor Bay Films
Less inferno than slow burn, Rob Zombie’s retro witch thriller “The Lords of Salem” has plenty of portent but not much payoff. Likely to disappoint die-hard fans of “The Devil’s Rejects” and other Zombie atrocities, this milder brew still has ’70s-esque style to spare and sports a likable lead perf by Sheri Moon Zombie as a DJ seemingly spun by Satan’s spawn into the lower depths. Theatrical play will pale beside the pic’s ancillary afterlife, although “Lords” isn’t potent enough to rule in either realm.
— Rob Nelson
Read the full review

Filly Brown
Pantelion Films
Presenting a tough profile but revealing a soft inner core, “Filly Brown” tells a familiar saga of a no-nonsense Latina rapper and her struggles at home and in the biz. Despite the contributions of no fewer than four writers, including co-directors Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos, the resulting film is a trite piece of storytelling, with character development and plot points that feel not so much lived in as borrowed from other movies. Slick surface, a song-filled soundtrack and lots of young faces will draw buyers, but commercial prospects are limited.
— Robert Koehler
Read the full review

Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Drugs, cancer, bankruptcy, unpaid royalties and unresolved resentments have rendered Levon Helm a 70-year-old chunk of Arkansan gristle. But as suggested by the title of Jacob Hatley’s quasi-biopic, “Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm,” his story is about survival, and singing in the face of death. The muscle in his music, the poignancy of his story and the underlying theme of what kind of life is worth living should provide this fascinating if not entirely revealing portrait with a reasonably robust existence, including select arthouse exposure.
— John Anderson
Read the full review

Unmade in America
7th Art Releasing
China caps its film imports at 20 features a year, but director Gil Kaufman had a workaround — or so he thought. After failing to get his lonelygirl15-inspired thriller off the ground in Hollywood, the helmer took the script to China and tried to make it there on the country’s own terms. The experience was a disaster, running into trouble with corrupt officials, incompetent crew and censors, all of which Kaufman rather gleefully admits in this casual spilt-milk tell-all to friend Tanner King Barklow. Composed largely of footage lifted from a festival Q&A, “Unmade in China” occasionally suggests the meandering hilarity of a Spaulding Gray monologue, as when Kaufman describes puppy-torture scenes added by a script “translator” or major recasting decisions made without his input. But mostly, it’s just a sloppy account of a doomed-to-fail endeavor in which Kaufman retroactively feigns naivete about an assignment with too many obvious red flags.
— Peter Debruge

Distributor: What Prods.
At last count, 15,792 people live in Oconomowoc, Wisc. That’s about 15,000 more than will see the film that bears its name, a slender absurdist riff on the man-child coming-of-age comedy. A mid-20s white guy (affable but average Brendan Marshall-Rashid) returns home to sort out his life; instead, he finds himself wasting time with the same old losers he left behind, including the weirdo (Andrew Rozanski) who married his mom, an obnoxious old friend whose costume consists of blue briefs, bare chest and polka-dotted bathrobe. Expanding on his 2008 short, “Cookies and Lemonade,” writer-director Andy Gillies (who also appears in the film) seems awfully enamored of twee indies, channeling the likes of “Bottle Rocket” and “Garden State,” though the first glimmers of an original voice peek through the mostly mundane proceedings. Practice-run pacing and a homemade soundtrack (with longtime friend Joe Haas’ help) give everything a made-for-YouTube feel.
— Peter Debruge

War on Whistleblowers
Quad Cinema, New York
Robert Greenwald’s docu paints a sobering picture of a national security state, a secret superstratum with no controls, no accountability and no oversight — a bureaucracy whose objective is less to protect the nation’s security than to safeguard the interests of corporations, agencies and politicians. According to Greenwald and his impressive roster of reporters and whistleblowers, the Obama administration, far from fostering greater transparency in government, has indicted more people for secrecy violations than all previous administrations combined; one journalist succinctly asserts, “Speaking truth to government is a criminal act.” Greenwald’s approach tilts toward scattershot, bombarding viewers with multiple bits of news and samplings of cases first introduced and then reprised later on, mainly emphasizing the repercussions on the beleaguered truth-tellers themselves, but with due diligence given to these governmental policies’ unfortunate impact on freedom of the press. “Whistleblowers” bows limited on April 19th prior to probable smallscreen airings.
— Ronnie Scheib

Girl Rising
Gathr Films
Part anthology, part plea for girls’ education, part fundraiser, “Girl Rising” never loses sight of its message: Educating girls makes sense on every level – culturally, socially and, particularly, economically. Consisting of nine sections featuring nine different girls from nine developing countries, from Cambodia to Egypt to Nepal, and penned by a different female writer from each nation, the stories are voiced by the likes of Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Alicia Keyes. Filmed in varying styles, with statistic-filled interstitial materials, this is a brightly colored, highly cinematic equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation.  The high-grossing docu, now reopening “by popular demand” in selected theaters, could draw additional mother-daughter auds.
— Ronnie Scheib

Popular on Variety

Film Reviews: Opening This Week (April 15-19, 2013)

More Film

  • Jon Favreau'The Lion King' film premiere,

    Jon Favreau 'Holding Out Hope' for Spider-Man to Remain in the MCU

    Spider-Man’s potential exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe could throw a wrench in Happy and Aunt May’s relationship, but Jon Favreau is “optimistic” the love affair will continue amid Sony’s dispute with Disney. “You never know what’s going to happen. I’m holding out hope and being optimistic that this isn’t the final chapter of the [...]

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Cara Delevingne Talks Immigration, Taylor Swift's Battle With Scooter Braun

    Cara Delevingne, whose faerie character in “Carnival Row” finds herself washed ashore as a refugee in a foreign land, said she was immediately drawn by the show’s fantastical take on issues of immigration and assimilation. “It’s a cause that I have been involved in for a long time,” Delevingne told Variety at the premiere of [...]

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Romulus TV Show Italy

    Behind the Italian Scenes on Upcoming TV Blockbuster 'Romulus'

    On a hilly patch of greenery outside Rome, a group of extras is milling about in a meticulously reconstructed eighth century B.C. village wearing leather sandals, coarse red tunics and baseball caps. It’s scorching. The set is on a vast backlot on the grounds of the Cinecittà World theme park where during a period of [...]

  • James Wan's Horror Pic Adds George

    James Wan Finds Male Lead for His Next Horror Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    British actor George Young has landed the male lead role opposite Annabelle Wallis in James Wan’s top secret horror pic, sources tell Variety. Wan is tackling the movie, tentatively titled “Silvercup,” this fall before beginning preparations for DC’s “Aquaman” sequel with Jason Momoa at the top of 2020. Plot details are currently being kept under [...]

  • Catch-22 Cinecitta BTS

    Rome's Cinecitta Makes Major Upgrades to Soundstages, Backlot

    Italy has always been attractive as a location, and now that increased global TV and film production is filling up soundstages around Europe, Rome’s Cinecittà is gunning to regain its global status as a top studio. The fabled facility, located on 99 acres of public land, had lost some of the luster of its 1950s [...]

  • Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now BTS

    Why Everything About 'Apocalypse Now's' Production Was Unorthodox

    Lionsgate and American Zoetrope are releasing “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” the third version of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic, to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. While multiple versions of any mainstream movie are unusual, everything about this movie was unorthodox. On Oct. 14, 1969, Variety reported that Warner Bros. bought the script by John Milius, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content