*Photo supplied
*Photo supplied

Speciality Theatre

Prisoners

***

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis. 

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rated: R

Showing: Wed-Thurs 6:30pm only.

Runtime: 153 minutes

Crime, drama, thriller

Anyone who pays even passing attention to the trailers and commercials for Prisoners may think they have a handle on what this movie is about: Hugh Jackman’s an aggrieved father on the hunt for his kidnapped daughter, and he’s not going to leave a stone unturned — or a face unpunched — until he finds her.

It’s Taken recast with Wolverine in the lead. The script pretty much writes itself, complete with vigilante violence, easy resolution and audience catharsis. Cue up Prisoners II for next year.

But that’s not what French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (whose 2010 film, Incendies, was nominated for a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar) and writer Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband) have in mind. Grim, grey and surprisingly gruesome, Prisoners — the director’s first foray into English-language filmmaking — has its flaws, but predictability is not one of them.

Jackman is Keller Dover, a Pennsylvania home remodeler who prides himself on protecting his family, whether it’s teaching his teenage son (Dylan Minnettev) to hunt or keeping a well-ordered survivalist’s pantry in the basement. But his sense of order is shattered when — while having Thanksgiving dinner with neighbours Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) — his daughter (Erin Gerasimovich) and the Birch’s daughter (Kyla Drew Simmons) are snatched off the street in broad daylight.

The torture scenes are difficult to watch. This isn’t horror-movie histrionics that are so over-the-top as to verge on fantasy; it feels real and violent.

The downside is the movie, at 153 minutes, goes on too long. And it’s questionable whether the resolution is worth a 2 1/2-hour wait.  

The Conjuring

***

Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston. 

Director: James Wan

Rated: R

Showing: Wed-Thurs 7:30pm.

Runtime: 112 minutes

Horror, thriller 

Haunted house movies only work if the people in the house are worth scaring. Sounds stupid, but it’s true, although let’s be honest: Real estate is inherently frightening. You put all that money in and only Satan knows if it’ll turn out to be a decent investment, or if you’ll be able to afford what it takes to repair any undisclosed matters of basement seepage. The quirks and creaks of an old house are always good for gallows humour or a cold shot of dread. Like The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring derives from an alleged true-life haunting, this one in rural Rhode Island. The film blends the tales of two families under extreme duress. Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life ghost hunters played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, investigate the strange goings-on owned by a family headed by Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor). Warning signs and troubling details abound, but subtly, in the opening sequences. The family dog won’t go inside. The clocks stop every night at 3:07am... Then the ghost of a long-dead child appears to one of the girls in a mirror. The miserably out-of-tune piano found in the cellar plays itself.

Before all that, though, The Conjuring begins with a bait-and-switch and an entirely different story set three years earlier, that of a devil doll in 1968. The doll ends up in the possession of the paranormal investigators played by Wilson and Farmiga. They have a young daughter of their own, who’s no less vulnerable to demons and such than the Rhode Island girls living by the river. But the movie belongs to the women, for once.

Might this movie actually be too good, in a slightly square way, to find the audience it deserves among under-20-somethings? Maybe. Maybe not. I hope not. 


Liberty Theatre

Battle of the Year

***

Stars: Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo. 

Director: Lee Daniels. 

Rated: PG-13

Showing: Wed-Thurs 2:30pm & 6pm.

Runtime: 132 minutes

Biography, drama.

Dance battle movies, including Step Up and its ilk, have become the musicals of their generation. They may be formulaic in the extreme, generic in their romances and peopled with character “types.” But they’re athletic extravaganzas celebrating great skill and the art of B-Boys and B-Girls. 

They may wear the veneer of “street” and “edgy,” but parents appreciate how harmless they are. 

Battle of the Year touches on that, how the rest of the world has embraced B-Boy culture, but how they’re no longer perceived as cutting edge or “cool” in the United States. 

That worries the Sean Combs-like impresario, Dante (Laz Alonso). 

“How long before hip-hop isn’t cool?” 

He’s got to protect his music, dance and fashion empire by putting American B-Boys back on top. 

Neptune Theatre

Baggage Claim

***

Stars: Paula Patton, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott 

Director: David E Talbert.

Rated: PG13

Showing: Wed-Thurs 7:30pm.

Runtime: 96 minutes

Comedy

Baggage Claim is a harmless romantic comedy that follows a familiar theme: A young woman just can’t seem to find the right man. She sets out to find that true love while remaining oblivious to how the man of her dreams has always been in her life. If you can’t spot this guy, you’ve never seen a Lifetime or
Hallmark movie. 

The woman in question is flight attendant Montana Moore (Paula Patton), a perpetual bridesmaid who finally sets a 30-day timetable to find a husband. Her friends at the airline suggest she take another look at boyfriends. When one of her old flames books a flight, she will make sure to be there to “accidentally” bump into them.

It doesn’t take too many flights before it becomes painfully obvious there was a reason she dumped the guys the first time around.

This kind of movie depends on how much the audience is rooting for the woman to find a man. 

That’s easy in Baggage Claim because Patton is so likable. But it’s extremely difficult to believe someone like Patton would ever have a problem finding Mr Right. There are a few funny romantic moments, such as Taye Diggs playing a man with control issues and Trey Songz as a musician who’s more hype than hip.

It would be easy to dismiss Baggage Claim for its retreaded theme, uneven script and forced acting efforts. Just like a blind date, you have to look past the flaws to find the heart. 

Southside Theatre

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

****

Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Will Forte. 

Director: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn. 

Rated: PG

Showing: Wed-Thurs 4:30pm, 7:30pm.

Runtime: 95 minutes

Animation, comedy, family.

Save some room on your kid’s calendar for the animated film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. This scrumptious sequel follows the same recipe as the 2009 original. A young inventor bursting with enthusiasm, Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) must try to shut down his greatest creation, a food-generating machine, before it wreaks irreversible damage. Flint and his posse must travel back to Swallow Falls, the island he inadvertently buried under layer upon layer of food in the first film. Now those comestibles have sparked to life, taking various zoomorphic forms.

The result is an edible Oz, a julienned Jurassic Park. Nicely rendered, too. You’re supposed to fear the giant cheeseburgers, but their sesame-seeded buns just make them look delicious.

It’s a tasty buffet of food gags, both visual and verbal. When they say “We’re toast,” they really mean it. Relish it. 

ALL REVIEWS MCT