THE SPECTACULAR NOW. This film brought me closer to a public emotional outburst than any movie I have ever seen. I tend not to get too misty-eyed in public, but director James Ponsoldt's heartbreaking, careful meditation on love, loss and adolescent identity hits all the right notes.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a supremely easygoing high school senior waging war with his liver, finds himself in the midst of changing circumstances. Thrown over by his gorgeous, life of the party girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), he starts looking for answers to life's big questions. Mostly in the bottom of any bottle he can get his hands on. After passing out in the front yard of quiet, unassuming Aimee Fenecky (Shailene Woodley), Sutter strikes up an aimless friendship with her. He tells himself his goal is to save her from life as a wallflower, but the incessant buzz of booze and hormones in his blood brings on something a lot like love.
The relationship gets complicated quickly: Sutter doesn't know where his dad is and heeds Aimee's call to find out. Things start getting rocky with his mom, Aimee starts drinking as much as Sutter does and a road trip to find his old man ends in near tragedy.
In synopsis, The Spectacular Now might sound awfully similar to any number of other coming of age dramadies. But there is genius here: in Ponsoldt's confident, un-showy visual style; in the courageous, unflinching observations of the script (by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, adapted from the novel by Tim Tharp); and not least of all in the raw, nervy performances of the talented young cast.
This movie won't resonate with everybody as it has with me. But it so effectively stirs up the dark miasma of self-doubt and crisis, while also evoking the golden light and intermittent rush of weightlessness — that combination we call adolescence — that I have to applaud it. With its few visual flourishes and clever musical touches, The Spectacular Now doesn't break new ground in terms of filmmaking. In terms of storytelling authenticity and vulnerability, though, it is pretty damn unique. R. 95m.
RIDDICK. I fondly remember Pitch Black (2000) as a scrappy, original little sci-fi movie with a strong sense of story. The overblown, uninvolving sequel that followed it (2004's The Chronicles of Riddick) didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, and I never imagined the possibility of a third installment. But here it is, and I have to admit I kind of like it — not as much as the original, but certainly more than the second.
The movie opens with super-criminal/genetic oddity Riddick (Vin Diesel) abandoned on the scorched surface of some distant planet. His leg is badly broken, and he's been left for dead. As he begins to rehabilitate his battered carcass (while hand-raising a bizarre CGI dingo thing) we're treated to a hearty helping of exposition. Seems after the events of Chronicles, Riddick became the king of the Necromongers (long story). But the debauchery and sheer weirdness of royal life soon lost their appeal, and poor ol' King Riddick got homesick. He agreed to abdicate his throne for a ride back to his home planet, ceding power to his second in command, Vaako (Karl Urban). But it was a classic double cross, with Riddick ending up where the movie starts.
Once he's nursed himself back to full murder-strength, he sets out in search of clean water and people to fight. He gets both in the form of two teams of bounty hunters and a monsoon that threatens them all.
Like Pitch Black, Riddick has a fun, distinct take on the sci-fi, outlander action vehicle. And Diesel embraces the character with unlikely relish. The result is watchable, mostly entertaining and not a total waste of time. R. 119m.
— John J. Bennett
THE FAMILY. Luc Besson directs Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones in a mob/witness protection action-comedy. R. 112m.
INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2. Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are having trouble with the kids again in this haunted sequel. PG13. 105m.
BLUE JASMINE. Cate Blanchett is a socialite on the cusp of a breakdown who slums it with her sister in this well made Woody Allen drama. PG13. 98m.
DESPICABLE ME 2. Gru (Steve Carell), the girls and the minions are back and saving the world in this fun animated sequel. PG. 98m.
ELYSIUM. Matt Damon turns workman's comp into revolution in this effective dystopian sci-fi with Jodie Foster as his sharp-suited foe. R. 110 m
LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Moving Civil Rights era tale with Forest Whitaker as a White House butler through the decades. PG13. 132m.
MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. Attractive, young "shadowhunters" battle demons in an even scarier New York that's invisible to mere humans. PG13. 130m.
ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US. Directioners, rejoice. All others, run. PG. 92m.
PLANES. Like Cars, but not. Really, not. PG. 92m.
WE'RE THE MILLERS. Implausible drug smuggling comedy wastes the usually funny Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Anniston. R. 110m.
THE WORLD'S END. Slow start, but a quality apocalyptic pub crawl with the boys from Shawn of the Dead and their mates. R. 109 m.
THIS IS THE END. The end of the world stoner bromance with Seth Rogan and company is back in case your short-term memory is fuzzy. R. 107m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill