Film Reviews: Opening This Week (June 10-14, 2013)

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

Man of Steel
Warner Bros.
There’s nary a mention of kryptonite, the Fortress of Solitude is only an existential locale, and Clark Kent never earns so much as a single Daily Planet byline in “Man of Steel,” director Zack Snyder, writer David S. Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan’s strenuously revisionist Superman origin story, which might more accurately have been titled “Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Spacemen,” given the amount of screen time devoted to exiled Kryptonians body-slamming each other into all manner of natural and manmade structures. Clearly designed to do for DC Comics’ other most venerable property what Nolan and Goyer’s “Batman Begins” did for the Caped Crusader, this heavily hyped, brilliantly marketed tentpole attraction seems destined to soar with worldwide audiences this summer, even if the humorless tone and relentlessly noisy (visually and sonically) aesthetics leave much to be desired — chiefly, a “Steel” sequel directed with less of an iron fist.
— Scott Foundas
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This is the End

This Is the End
The apocalypse, generally seen as an occasion for sober reflection and perhaps deep despair, instead provides an excuse for ostensibly grown men to drink their own urine, kick around a guy’s severed head and have long, drawn-out arguments about their autoerotic habits in “This Is the End.” A sloppy, sophomoric, sometimes awfully funny horror-laffer hybrid that speculates as to how Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and other members of the Judd Apatow comic fraternity would (mis)behave if forced to spend Armageddon in close quarters, this directing debut for co-writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg offsets its slightly smug premise with a clever sense of self-parody and near-cataclysmic levels of vulgarity. Mid-summer competition aside, commercial disaster seems unlikely.
— Justin Chang
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The Bling Ring
When future generations want to understand how we lived at the dawn of the plugged-in, privacy-free, Paris Hilton-ized 21st century, there will likely be few films more instructive than “The Bling Ring.” A spiritual sequel of sorts to “The Social Network,” Sofia Coppola’s fact-based tale of the 2008-09 crime spree by a gang of enterprising SoCal teens targeting the homes of high-profile celebrities reps a return to more pop, accessible filmmaking for the “Lost in Translation” auteur following the austere “Somewhere” (which earned only $1.7 million domestically). Though it lacks the name cast and self-consciously outre style of another recent girls-gone-wild opus, “Spring Breakers,” this lively and fascinating pic should score well with its target hipster demo, delivering solid arthouse numbers for upstart distrib A24.
— Scott Foundas
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Twenty Feet From Stardom
Pulling raw talent from the footnotes of rock ‘n’ roll history and splashing their names up on the marquee where they belong, “Twenty Feet From Stardom” wages a compelling crusade to get background singers some long-overdue recognition. Featuring such stalwarts as Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Tata Vega — many of whose voices are well known even if their names are not — this rousing group portrait should have commercial legs as long as its subjects’, leaving satisfied audiences everywhere listening with new ears. Director Morgan Neville’s loving spotlight, produced by late A&M Records exec Gil Friesen, ensures their contributions will go unsung no more.
— Peter Debruge
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Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story
First Run Features
The colorful personality and heterogeneous body of work of French-born illustrator-author Tomi Ungerer is vividly brought to life in docu “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough.” Helmer Brad Bernstein, who has a background in nonfiction TV production, here brings a clearly cinematic sensibility to his account of Ungerer’s youth and initial success as an author of such children’s books as “The Three Robbers,” and the artist’s subsequent parallel career in adult-targeted fare, including Vietnam-era protest posters and top-drawer erotica. Already in heavy fest rotation, the pic should also travel far and wide in smallscreen formats.
— Boyd van Hoeij
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Call Me Kuchu
A fierce, homegrown anti-gay movement and a vastly outnumbered LGBT community confront each other in Uganda to uncertain and unsettling results in “Call Me Kuchu.” As much an activist wake-up call as a piece of reportage, this report from the frontlines by co-directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall offers an outsider’s view; while a local filmmaker’s perspective may have brought more dimensions, the coverage of events here is impressive and on the mark. Fest tour has been sensational.
— Robert Koehler
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Pandora’s Promise
Not quite an H-bomb dropped on the environmentalist zeitgeist, “Pandora’s Promise” does provoke those who have long opposed nuclear power to at least reconsider it, presenting its arguments in a green light, and asking the question: Can one be committed to the environment, and still be against nuclear power? Most issue docs are propaganda, and Robert Stone’s latest is a formidable sales pitch for nukes, yet the film’s points are well reasoned and urgent, and should attract viewers who have been drawn to the director’s earlier work(such as “Earth Days,” a history of the environmentalist movement). Auds, particularly on the smallscreen, may come away bewildered, but possibly persuaded.
— John Anderson
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Vehicle 19
Ketchup Entertainment
The venerable “from hell” movie subgenre (e.g., nanny from hell, secretary from hell) picks up an unlikely addition — the rental car from hell — in “Vehicle 19,” a South African-made B-grade quickie looking to cash in on a time-tested combination of elements: Paul Walker and mass automotive mayhem. Neither particularly fast nor furious, this mostly preposterous high-concept clunker (which feels padded even at barely 80 minutes sans credits) makes a pit stop in a handful of North American theaters this week en route to a July 23 homevid debut.
— Scott Foundas
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The Guillotines
Well Go USA Entertainment
Heads won’t roll in “The Guillotines,” an ineptly executed period actioner in which the decapitating blades are hardly ever unsheathed or shown in all their grisly 3D glory. Starting out as a bromance between imperial assassins, this latest effort from Hong Kong helmer-producer Andrew Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) morphs into a heavy-handed allegory on government oppression, but never delivers a cathartic payoff. Producer Peter Ho-sun Chan’s track record helped presell the $18 million blockbuster to major territories, including North America, but the lack of rip-roaring martial arts or even a half-decent storyline will leave genre aficionados feeling short-changed.
— Maggie Lee
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In the Fog
Strand Releasing
Classical in a good way, “In the Fog” explores the moralities of wartime with restraint and exacting execution when fate throws three men into conflict with each other by fate in Belorussia during WWII. Belorussian-born helmer Sergei Loznitsa’s sophomore feature is a more conventional work than his audacious debut, “My Joy,” but no less accomplished in its craft, especially thanks to sterling work by ace Romanian lenser Oleg Mutu. Pic will need strong critical support west of the Danube to coax specialty auds, but may fare better in Eastern Europe by tapping race memories of the best Soviet war films.
— Leslie Felperin
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Berberian Sound Studio
IFC Midnight
A delicately detailed immersion into the world of Z-grade Italian horror cinema that ultimately may or may not be a horror film itself, Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio” is a tense, teasing triumph. Affording the humble sound engineer his finest onscreen showcase since Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out,” this exquisitely crafted sophomore feature makes good on the atmospheric promise of Strickland’s debut, “Katalin Varga,” and offers British thesp Toby Jones a subtle moment in the spotlight. Edinburgh should be the first of many festival dates for this richly ambiguous pic, sure to be a conversation piece among discerning genre fiends.
— Guy Lodge
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Excel Entertainment
Four hapless, none-too-bright nobodies, or “Fukrey,” desperately try to dig up enough cash so they can bribe their way into academia and hook up with hot coeds in second-time helmer Mrighdeep Singh Lamba’s largely unoriginal buddy comedy. Lamba frenetically intercuts among the motley male quartet — the straight-arrow correspondence-school student (Manjot Singh); the mopey singer/songwriter whose muse deserted him when he chose music over love (Ali Fazal); the nitwitted high-school graduate (Varun Sharma); and his smarter sidekick (Pulkrit Samrat) — whose involvement with a sexy criminal queenpin (Richa Chadda) alternately brings them together or flings them apart. Nothing really coheres in this unimaginative mishmash (no “Delhi Belly,” this), but the raucous comedy’s modest charm lies precisely in its inchoate energy fueled by bumptious stupidity, propelled by Ram Sampath’s hopped-up score and impressive thesping by a foursome of relative unknowns.
— Ronnie Scheib

Hatchet III
Dark Sky Films
Even though viscera and vital organs are tossed about as usual, and yet another bunch of luckless supporting characters are ripped apart like so much warm bread, there’s something curiously underwhelming about the blood-soaked mayhem on display in “Hatchet III.” Even die-hard fans may be disappointed by this ultra-violent low-budgeter, the latest and least installment in the cult-fave franchise about fear and loathing and corpse accumulating in a notorious stretch of Louisiana swamp country. Pic opens June 14 in simultaneous VOD and limited theatrical release.
— Joe Leydon
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More Than Honey
Kino Lorber
Helmer Markus Imhoof uses state-of-the-art filmmaking to illuminate the world’s bee crisis in the handsomely lensed docu “More Than Honey.” Colony collapse disorder (previously addressed in “Colony” and “Queen of the Sun”) has decimated the bee population, with scientists still uncertain about the exact nature of the deadly phenomenon. Imhoof, who has a family history of beekeeping, traveled to three continents, interviewing apiculture players and examining the nature of the calamity as well as a possible solution. Surprisingly up-close images of bees at rest and in flight give buzz to an inescapably downbeat topic; fests and ancillary will be drawn.
— Jay Weissberg
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Film Movement
A fed-up Jewish drug dealer in Paris decides to take the necessary steps to start over in the Promised Land in “Aliyah,” the intimate and dexterous debut feature of France-based filmmaker Elie Wajeman. Rather than a direct religious motive, the protag uses his proposed move abroad to find out how those who will stay behind really feel about him — and to see whether he can finally take charge of his life. Francophone arthouses and Jewish fests are natural habitats, though Wajeman’s talents deserve wider notice.
— Boyd van Hoeij
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The Stroller Strategy
Rialto Premieres
Like a pared-down “Three Men and a Baby,” sporting only one-third of the men and one-sixth of the gags, “The Stroller Strategy” concerns the misadventures of an unsuspecting bachelor into whose arms a baby literally falls. At first unwilling and overwhelmed, our handsome hero (Raphael Personnaz) exploits the infant as his key to winning back a beautiful lost girlfriend (Charlotte Le Bon) to whom he failed to fully commit. Pretending to be the newbie’s father, he sets about wooing his lady love, falling in love with the tyke in the process. Cute to the point of blandness, tyro French helmer Clement Michel’s vaguely amiable laffer scrupulously avoids all ambiguity, innovation or flashes of wit. Instead, the cluelessness of the besotted hero; the misguided cynicism of his advice-dispensing sidekick (Jerome Commandeur), who uses baby paraphernalia to attract women; and the feisty integrity of his tot-loving girlfriend are meant to carry the day.
— Ronnie Scheib

Married and Counting
Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills
The subject of “Married and Counting” decide to celebrate their 25th anniversary by getting hitched in every state where gay marriage is legal. That road-trip aspect lends novelty to this latest documentary about a topic that has been (and will be) addressed by many others, though its narrow character focus makes the effort sometimes seem more a glorified wedding(s) video than a particularly penetrating look at a divisive issue. After a year on the fest circuit, Allan Piper’s feature opens June 14 on one Beverly Hills screen, though it will find its primary niche audience in home formats and possible broadcast sales.
— Dennis Harvey
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In Bed With Ulysses
Films for Humanity
A surprisingly felicitous amalgam of literature and biography, “In Bed With Ulysses” does an excellent job of interweaving theatrical readings of James Joyce’s masterpiece (Kathleen Chalfant is particularly effective as the deliciously affirmative Molly Bloom) with a step-by-step illustrated retracing of the author’s checkered existence during the eight years it took him to compose the book. There may be little external action in the novel’s 24-hour unfolding, but there’s ample drama in Joyce’s peregrinations across Europe (family in tow, one step ahead of creditors), not to mention the tumultuous brouhaha and obscenity trial following the novel’s publication. Meanwhile, interior monologues from the “Ulysses” text furnish fascinating counterpoints to Joyce’s stormy relationship with life partner Nora. Never simplistically biographical, Alan Adelson and Kate Taverna’s docu (a tempting adjunct to the annual June 16 “Bloomsday” anniversary) instead proves tantalizing in its juxtapositions. Its discussion of the anti-Semitism sweeping Ireland during “Ulysses’” 1904 timeframe, which briefly targeted Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, also makes it a natural for Jewish fests.
— Ronnie Scheib

Storm Surfers 3D
XLrator Media
The twin Australian ideals of outdoor adventure and ecstatic camaraderie achieve harmonic convergence in the visceral, extreme-sport thrill-ride “Storm Surfers 3D.” Innovatively photographed, the pic features zealous fortysomething Down Under surfing legends Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones zig-zagging the southern hemisphere in search of waves the size of the Sydney Opera House. Currently touring Australia in one-off screenings with filmmakers and talent in attendance, international preems at the upcoming Toronto and San Sebastian fests will extend the established Storm Surfers brand, as stoked international auds wipe phantom sea-spray from their 3D glasses.
— Eddie Cockrell
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