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Jason Wallis From ‘Hunger Games’ to ‘4:44,’ summer film lineup is promising

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, March 16, 2012 7:48 am

As we begin the countdown to the start of the summer movie season (which, as per tradition, actually begins well before summer), I offer a brief preview of the remaining spring titles.

It looks like we’ve got a steady stream of promising wide releases to look forward to, along with a smattering of potentially interesting limited releases — until the last two weeks of April, when things go almost completely dark to make way for the surefire box-office juggernaut “The Avengers” (not sure what this column cover for those two weeks, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out).

Also this week: a quick look at “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which I had intended to review when it was in theaters but didn’t feel like driving 100 miles to see. It will take the place of my promised review of “Silent House” (also starring Elizabeth Olsen), which I decided no sane person should subject themselves to.

“21 Jump Street” (now playing, wide) — Horrible idea, decent trailer. I’ve developed an opposition to Jonah Hill of late, but I’m starting to come around to the idea of Channing Tatum as a leading man. With any luck this odd couple will have some on-screen chemistry and provide a laugh or two in this admittedly questionable tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the 1980s cop show.

“Casa De Mi Padre” (now playing, limited) — A Spanish-language production that follows the exploits of a hapless rancher who becomes embroiled in a war with a dangerous drug kingpin. Doesn’t sound like anything special, until you consider that it stars Will Farrell and features the big-screen reunion of Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna from “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Could be great fun.

“4:44 — Last Day on Earth” (March 23, limited) — Director Abel Ferrera (“Ms. 45,” “Bad Lieutenant,” “Body Snatchers”) hasn’t done anything notable in about 20 years, but his “valentine to the end of the world” has been racking up some very favorable reviews. It looks gritty, realistic and strangely inspiring, as far as apocalyptic movies go.

“The Hunger Games” (March 23, wide) — The “Battle Royale”-style fight to the death is among my favorite subgenres, but it’s almost impossible to do them right. This entry, based on the first of the best-selling series of teen lit books, could be yet another example of a wasted opportunity — “The Running Man” for the “Twilight” crowd, I’m thinking. After all, it is rated PG-13, which is stupid and horrible considering the subject matter. But whatever, I’ve heard good things.

“Wrath of the Titans” (March 30, wide) — Come on, you know you wanna. “Clash of the Titans” may not have been great filmmaking. In fact, I’m certain that it wasn’t. But it was at least fun, to an extent, and vastly superior to the rest of the sword-and-sandals epics that have been choking the release rosters since “300.” I see no reason why this sequel shouldn’t be more of the same, in the best way.

“Titanic 3D” (April 4, wide) — I’m not quite sure how I feel about this one. On one hand, James Cameron is the world’s leading innovator of 3D technology, and I’m sure this will be the most impressive 3D conversion we’ve seen so far. But at the same time, is this really necessary? The film wasn’t conceived in this format, and even after seeing the 3D trailer, I can’t imagine it would significantly benefit from the added visual bells and whistles. Honestly, I think I’d rather see the film again on the big screen in 2D and recapture some fond memories, rather than spending three and a half hours pondering the relative merits of Cameron’s naked greed.

“American Reunion” (April 6, wide) — Again, not sure how I feel. The concept is solid, with the “American Pie” franchise being recast as a “Big Chill”-style reflection on the shifting motivations and priorities of a group of longtime friends as they enter their 30s. But in order to avoid coming across as a cash-grab gimmick, the filmmakers had better rediscover the genuine heart and sentimentality that made the first two entries so effective before the half-baked “American Wedding” came along and ruined everything.

“The Cabin in the Woods” (April 13, wide) — I’m not really on board the J.J. Abrams bandwagon, but I’ve an open mind. And this thriller, about a group of naughty teens whose weekend getaway in the woods turns into a nightmare of torment and imprisonment, seems right up my alley. Am I marking my calendar? No. But absent decent competition, I suppose it’s worth a look.

“Marley” (April 20, limited) — Kevin Macdonald’s epic documentary on the life, music and activism of Bob Marley, naturally set for release on 4/20. I’ve never been a huge fan (rock > reggae, all day every day), but his is an incredible story that too few people have been exposed to. And I imagine the first screening in San Francisco will be quite the interesting scene indeed …

DVD Pick

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

★★★ 1/2 (out of four)

2011, Dir. Sean Durkin, U.S., R

I don’t have much space to offer up a proper review of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a quietly disturbing dramatic thriller that follows a young woman as she attempts to assimilate into society after spending years in an abusive backwoods cult. This is just as well, considering that I’m not sure there’s much to say about it as a film: It’s written and directed by Sean Durkin (marking his feature debut) in a very pared-down, old-fashioned style that respectfully downplays the inescapably sensationalist nature of the subject matter, and Durkin prefers to observe his characters in extended, largely static long shots that underline their disconnect from their domestic environment. It is consistently compelling, if at times a little too stylistically muted, and Durkin does an admirable job of shedding light on a difficult subject without turning the whole thing into a pat PSA for abused women.

It is a fine film, but the primary reason to see it is Elizabeth Olsen, the hitherto neglected sister of Mary Kate and Ashley. Here she marks her first performance since “How the West Was Fun,” and it is completely unlike anything I expected. Exhibiting a range of difficult emotions — from heartbreaking naiveté to primal fear — buried under a veneer of calm and normalcy, she absolutely owns every scene, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. A performance this confident and balanced doesn’t come along often, especially from a newcomer, and as a result Olsen now pretty much has her pick of roles. Let us hope she makes wise decisions, and delivers on the immense promised showcased in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is rated R for violence, profanity, sex, nudity and rape.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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