Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS"
Set your thrusters on maximum for this swashbuckling sci-fi action-adventure in IMAX 3D!
In the peril-propelled opening sequence, impetuous Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) rebels against the Federation's Prime Directive that prohibits interference with alien civilizations. It's a breach of military discipline, which is duly reported by his half-human/half-Vulcan First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), setting them in conflict. But soon the crew -- including Zoe Saldana as Spock's love interest Lt. Uhura, Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, Simon Pegg as Chief Engineer Scott, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, John Cho as Sulu, and introducing Alice Eve as weapons expert Carol Marcus -- is reunited aboard the USS Enterprise and boldly proceeding at warp speed into Klingon space in pursuit of a mysteriously malevolent, super-powered, intergalactic villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who seems determined to destroy Starfleet.
Pine and Quinto firmly establish their bro-mance loyalty and emotional kinship, while Bruce Greenwood scores as Kirk's mentor/boss, Admiral Christopher Pike, and Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus. But it's British star Cumberbatch ("Sherlock") -- with his exotic looks, deep voice and calm, expressionless, yet demanding demeanor -- who steals the show, delivering an icily cunning, convincing, electrifying performance.
Written by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, it's produced and directed by J.J. Abrams ("Super 8"), who's efficiently rebooted Gene Roddenberry's iconic pop culture franchise into a sprawling, high-tech, high-tension spectacle, adroitly revealing one layer of deception after another with a breathless sense of pace and tempo that keeps the attention riveted.
The "Into Darkness" title is appropriate because the simplistic, characteristically upbeat, lightheartedness and quirky, bantering humor of the original series has been almost discarded in favor of sinister, convoluted global conspiracies, challenging moral ambiguities and a myriad of graphic effects and lens flare-laden set-pieces. On the other hand, die-hard Trekkers, like me, will appreciate some reminiscent surprises.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to10, "Star Trek Into Darkness" revs up to a highly entertaining, adrenaline-fueled 8, filled with feverish, fast-paced suspense and excitement. Live long and prosper!
"AT ANY PRICE"
In the competitive world of modern, high-tech agriculture, ambitious, third-generation farmer Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) is in a bind. With his elder son off climbing mountains in South America, he wants his younger son Dean (Zac Efron) to help grow the family's 3,700-acre Iowa seed-farming empire.
Repeating the capitalist mantra, "expand or die," Henry routinely visits local funeral parlors and cemeteries, ruthlessly determined to buy the deceased's land at bargain prices from grieving children who are uninterested in pursuing their parents' hardscrabble life. But sullen, rebellious Dean hopes to become a professional stock car driver, racing on the NASCAR circuit. Yet when an accident sidelines Dean's dreams and a Liberty Seed investigation into Whipple's unscrupulous practice of cleaning and reselling patented seeds is exposed, father and son are pushed into an unexpected crisis that threatens the future of their business.
After "Man Push Cart," "Chop Shop" and "Goodbye Solo," this is the fourth film that New York-based, Iranian-American writer/director Ramin Bahrani has made about an individual's attempts to achieve the American Dream. Bahrani collaborated with Hallie Elizabeth Newton on this cliche-riddled, contrived and not-entirely-credible script, developing not only the two primary characters but also subsidiary ones, including Whipple's neighbor and hated rival, Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown) and his son (Ben Marten), Whipple's hard-working wife Irene (Kim Dickens), his unyielding father (Red West), along with son Dean's savvy girl-riend Cadence Farrow (Maika Monroe) and the town's restless "hotie," Meredith Crown (Heather Graham).
Indeed, Bahrani subtly evokes memories of Willy and Biff Loman in Arthur Miller's classic "Death of a Salesman." While there are not-so-subtle references to the debates surrounding the ownership of genetically modified seeds developed by corporations like Monsanto, oddly enough, there's no mention of either global warming or the persistent drought that currently threatens the troubled Midwestern heartland.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "At Any Price" is a stressed, struggling 6, exploring the moral and social consequences of corruption and the high-stakes economic pressures in the contemporary business world.
"TYLER PERRY'S TEMPTATION"
Madea's fun has long gone and it's all moralistic preaching in Tyler Perry's disappointing new picture.
Marriage counselor Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) works for an upscale Washington, D.C., millionaire match-making service. She's a dutiful Christian woman married to Brice (Lance Gross), who was her high school sweetheart and now works as a pharmacist in a drugstore. But their life together has become boring. So when her boss, Janice (Vanessa Williams), introduces her to Harley (Robbie Jones), a social-media magnate whom Janice covets
as an investor, Judith is intrigued.
Astutely realizing her vulnerability, playboy Harley plies Judith with flattery, vintage champagne, rides in his Rolls Royce and red Ferrari and even arranges a jaunt in his private jet with intent to join the Mile High Club. At first, cuckolded Brice doesn't grasp the situation -- except that Judith's not spending much time in their kitchen, cooking his dinner -- particularly since he's distracted by Melinda (R&B singer Brandy), a new assistant who's escaping from an abusive boyfriend.
But Judith's Bible-quoting minister mother, Sarah (Ella Joyce), realizes exactly what's happening and reprimands her daughter.
Adapted by writer/director Tyler Perry from his 2008 stage play, "The Marriage Counselor," this is a sluggish, stilted cautionary tale about wanting what you haven't got. To make his point about the sin of adultery, Perry predictably tosses in alcoholism, cocaine addition, domestic abuse and the heavy-handed threat of HIV infection as punishment for the promiscuous.
While Williams' amusingly fake French accent is diverting, TV's reality show "Keeping
Up with the Kardashians" celebrity Kim Kardashian, the middle sister with the infamous sex tape, proves -- indisputably -- that she has zero acting talent, although she's been astutely typecast as Ava, a rude, gold-digging office assistant who disses primly dressed Judith with bitchy remarks like: "Is your fashion icon Delta stewardess?"
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Tyler Perry's Temptation" is a straitlaced, sermonizing 3, condemning those who deviate from righteous church teachings.