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In Theaters: 'Killer Joe' & 'Ruby Sparks' Will 'Step Up' To The Plate, But 'The Watch' May Prove To Be A 'Klown'

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by Emma Bernstein
July 27, 2012 12:03 PM
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Bonjour à nos amis! Here is yet another Friday, and we hope you’re all ready to ring in the next two days of free time. You can dance, you can sing, you can create artwork, you can fight aliens or go canoeing or put a bounty on someone’s head. Or perhaps it’s a quiet night: you can stay home, write about your dream boyfriend or girlfriend and hope he or she comes to life! Fingers crossed. Whatever the case, bienvenue to the weekend!

Director Scott Speer leads his class of conflicted characters through choreographed routines in “Step Up Revolution,” the fourth installment in this franchise which, no worries folks, is still just as full of dance-a-rific sequences. Classically trained dancer Emily (Kathryn McCormick, a first time actress who previously appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance”) is hoping for a spot with a well-known dance company. When she meets Sean (Ryan Guzman, another first timer and MMA fighter) a guy hailing from the wrong side of town who just wants to dance (!), his raw, passionate talent gives her the inspiration she needs to audition. Unfortunately, not all is well in Dancetown (aka Miami), as Emily’s father (Peter Gallagher) is a developer who wants to replace Sean’s rundown neighborhood with glittering new condos. So what to do? Why, stage a political protest movement, of course! Sean and his buddies take their moves to the streets in order to “occupy” the space the developer wants to raze. Dance offs: the solution to all societal ills! While the dance scenes are truly awesome, from the jaw-dropping choreography to a variety of stunning costumes, a fairly predictable plot that features broad characters and clichéd dialogue leaves us with rather droopy eyelids. Metacritic: 43 Rotten Tomatoes: 28%

Some of the biggest names in comedy start “The Watch” in order to defend their suburban town against evil forces in this new film from director Akiva Schaffer and writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. When a security guard is killed at a local Costco, Evan (Ben Stiller) decides to form a posse to protect the citizens of Glenview, Ohio. He manages to recruit Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade, from the much lauded British sitcom “The IT Crowd”), and the foursome launch an investigation heaped with a large side of male bonding. And then they uncover an alien invasion plot. Wait, hold on… yes! Alien invasion plot. Will Forte, Billy Crudup, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Erin Moriarty co-star. Our review says, “shoddily assembled, and rarely generating the hilarity it should, ‘The Watch’ is a missed opportunity, and a genre mashup that largely fails to entertain or thrill.” MC: 39 RT: 13%

Based on a popular television series, the Danish film “Klown,” from director Mikkel Nørgaard, is a coming-of-age story that mostly takes place during a canoe trip. Just like “Deliverance” you say? Well, not quite: those coming of age are both a 12-year-old boy and his man-child uncle. And no one has a crossbow. After finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, Frank (Frank Hvam) brings his nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) along for the river outing with his friend Casper (Casper Christiansen), hoping to pick up some parenting tips as they paddle downstream. Raunchy humor and male characters that fear major life transitions abound. Our review likens the film to “The Hangover” movies, but puts it a bar above, touting “a lack of fear towards the lawlessness with which those films only flirt.” MC: 63 RT: 79%

Familial drama and bloody carnage flows through Texas in William Friedkin’s blackly comedic “Killer Joe,” based on a play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay). After his mother steals the cocaine that was supposed to pay off old debts to a local mobster, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) decides to kill her for the insurance money. Only, he’s not going to do it himself. Together with his father (Thomas Haden Church), his stepmother (Gina Gershon), and his sister (Juno Temple), Chris hires a seditious cop, "Killer" Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), to carry out the murder in his stead. When the plotting relatives aren’t able to make Joe’s upfront fee, he takes Chris’ sister as collateral until the insurance company ponies up. This should go well. Our review lauds the performances, McConaughey’s in particular, and says the film may be one of the best of recent theater adaptations, concluding, “it's furiously entertaining, and a very strong piece of drama.” MC: 62 RT: 81%

Alison Klayman’s documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” follows the titular multimedia artist in politically engaged (and sometimes enraged) work that his native Chinese government has deemed “subversive.” After an earthquake destroys a large school, Ai Weiwei begins investigating the incident, believing that the building wasn’t constructed properly. Though he is threatened, thwarted, and, eventually, held as a prisoner by government officials, the artist never halts in his search for truth, and refuses to stop using his talents to make powerful statements. Our review admires the film’s span and depth, finding Ai Weiwei to be thoroughly drawn, the complimentary and contradictory natures of the artist, his art, and his country well articulated. MC: 78 RT: 92%

The music documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” directed by Malik Bendjelloul, is in part about the early 1970s folk singer-songwriter Rodriguez and in part about two men who attempted to figure out what happened to him. It appeared that Rodriguez committed suicide during his last public performance, but reports of the event differ, and a journalist and a fan (both South African) team up to learn the truth. The film explores the musician’s life fully, featuring interviews with his daughters and much of his recorded music, as well as an original score; later, it finds the Rodriguez searchers uncovering a notable piece of posthumous news. Our review says, “this film is at once a time capsule, tribute, and encapsulation of his talent, personality and legacy,” and notes, “‘Searching For Sugar Man’ pays suitable tribute without overstating his impact on the rest of the world, but still leaving audiences with a sense of completion, both in terms of his ambitions and the world’s reaction to his work.” MC: 73 RT: 93%

Ruby Sparks,” from directorial pair Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and writer Zoe Kazan, uses a strangely realistic fantasy motif to explore the power struggle inherent in relationships. Calvin (Paul Dano), a young but acclaimed novelist, finds himself stricken with writer’s block until he envisions his perfect match, Ruby Sparks (Kazan). He writes and writes and writes, falling more in love with her the more he puts down on paper. And then, one day, Ruby’s real – alive and active and perfect, just as Calvin’s composed her. Though, at first, there seems to be no need, he can still control her with his writing; it’s not until Ruby’s autonomy kicks in that Calvin begins to have second thoughts, his love for the girl warring with his desire to have her do and be exactly what he wants, all fighting against his fear of losing her completely. Eventually, someone has to give in. Elliott Gould and Chris Messina co-star in this modern-day interpretation of Ovid’s “Pygmalion” myth. Our review commends the lead performances and Kazan’s writing, saying, “the film is stylish and expertly paced, never dragging, consistently foregrounding the characters and story.” MC: 68 RT: 72%

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