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I Got 39 Problems... but Oprah Ain't One

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Let me say it right up front. I'm not an economist. So I can't pretend to know how the southern California economy fared when Lee Daniels' The Butler closed production. I only pray that the 39 credited producers on the film have been able to find meaningful employment after this gig ended. That's right. Thirty-nine. Thirty-nine producers (and that doesn't even count the Weinstein brothers or Oprah, who I have to believe could order any of those 39 to fetch them a cappuccino). Up until now, film fans would most associate "39," in descending order with Alfred Hitchcock's steps, Renee Zellweger's case, and the Tenacious D song that doesn't actually appear in Pick of Destiny. But from now on, we have something new to think of.

Here's my weekly review of the new, and almost new, playing in your area theaters.

But first, a note on this week's trailers:

I love Spike Jonze and am always excited when he has a new movie out, even though Her appears to be derived from a Big Bang Theory subplot.

Of the five movies I saw this week, only one of them had a trailer for Johnny Knoxville's Bad Grandpa, down from five last week. I can almost feel the brain cells regenerating.

Sylvester Stallone has a movie coming out co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and another one co-starring Robert DeNiro. I want to see the one with Schwarzenegger more. Does that make me a bad person?

Now, onto this week's movies:

Short Term 12: What's especially encouraging about this portrait of a teen-age foster care home is that a rather acclaimed French film, Polisse, dealt with a similar subject in 2011. This movie, by first time-writer director Destin Cretton, is better. Both movies focus on the grown-ups assigned to help at-risk kids (be they social workers or cops) and the way their lives are impacted. For a change, the American movie is the more personal and less histrionic version. A friend of mine pointed out that though the story is rough, it is also somewhat optimistic about these children, and that, combined with a fair amount of humor, makes it both entertaining and poignant. A-

Prisoners: It has a false ending structure reminiscent of Minority Report and a pacing similar to Zodiac, but Denis Villeneuve's thriller stands up just fine all by itself. Featuring a bravura performance by Hugh Jackman, and excellent support from Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo (the rest of the first-rate cast - Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and the awesome Terrence Howard seem a bit underused), this manages to be both a good story and a very good meditation on an actual theme. That theme is doubt and this movie poses important questions about how far we are willing to go when we have it. Also boasts a pitch perfect final scene, which few movies can boast. A-

Generation Iron: Even if you are not familiar with the landmark documentary Pumping Iron, which helped make Arnold a star and can be read as one of the truly important political movies of the late 20th century, you can still enjoy this modern revisit to the land of bodybuilding. Phil Heath and Kai Greene take on the roles of Arnold and Lou Ferrigno in the original and their stories are equally good. The movie follows Heath, Greene, and six others as they prepare for the 2012 Mr. Olympia contest, and director Vlad Yudin stays very even-handed as he examines politics and steroids, god-given talent and hard work, and the general pursuit of the impossible. Somewhat sleepy narration from Mickey Rourke, but I forgive that. After all, it's Mickey Rourke. B+

Lee Daniels' The Butler: I know I'm a little late with this but there was this storm and the power went out, and well, you don't need to know all the details. This is a feel-good story and it is a good movie, and I hope I don't piss off too many people when I say it is not a great movie. It covers a very long time and that is hard to do in a movie. Think about it. There are exceptions, sure, but how many great movies span more than ten years? So here, Daniels has to race through some sequences that I wanted to see more of. The central story of Cecil Gaines and his son Louis is quite good. I just wish there was more of it. I was also seriously bothered by gimmicky casting. Robin Williams is not Dwight Eisenhower. You can't cast Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan and expect to have your audience maintain any suspension of disbelief. And if you have the awesome Terrence Howard, why waste him is a virtually meaningless role? B-

Thanks for Sharing: First-time director Stuart Blumberg gets credit for dramatizing the impossible: sexual addiction. I mean, unless you're remaking Porky's (which by the way, is not a good idea) you can't really show a guy sitting at his computer enjoying his "me" time and not have an audience break up into titters of awkward giggles. Blumberg almost manages this in his dramedy about three men who are battling this affliction. Unfortunately, he doesn't have very good control over his tone, and the swings from the tragedy of a father-son story (Tim Robbins and Patrick Fugit) to the slapstick mismatched comedy of Josh Gad and Pink are simply awkward. The final somber montage music seems mind-boggling tone deaf. Saddest of all, the man at the center is a seemingly normal guy played by Mark Ruffalo. I know this may upset some people, but Mark Ruffalo is great at playing slackers, and not very good at playing much else. Here, he has to show pain and passion (real - not "Hulk sad"-style) and he just isn't that good at it. You know who would have been better? The awesome Terrence Howard. C-

Lots of things open this week. And I'll be there. Unless I snag a producer job somewhere.