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Movies: 'The Spectacular Now,' 'Planes' & 'Paranoia'

Updated 6:15 pm, Saturday, August 31, 2013
  • "The Spectacular Now," a new movie adapted from the 2008 novel by Tim Tharp, is now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    "The Spectacular Now," a new movie adapted from the 2008 novel by Tim Tharp, is now playing in area theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"THE SPECTACULAR NOW"

Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut said it best: "True terror is to wake up and discover that your high school class is running the country."

Underachieving high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the class clown, the genial, flask-toting life of every party he attends, but after he's dumped by his beautiful blonde girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), he's completely adrift -- and drinking far too much whiskey. Until he awakens one morning and finds himself sprawled on the lawn in front of the home of fresh-faced Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley); he's so plastered that he's unable to remember where he parked his car. Unlike either Sutter or Cassidy, studious, level-headed Aimee personifies innocence and goodness.

That's why Sutter's buddy Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi) and Aimee's friend Krystal (Kaitlyn Dever) fear that perennially intoxicated Sutter will break Aimee's heart.

Adapted from Tim Tharp's 2008 novel by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ("500 Days of Summer") and subtly directed by James Ponsoldt ("Smashed"), this comedic drama delves into the effects of broken homes on fragile teenagers. Nine years earlier, Sutter's mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a hard-working nurse, divorced his father, Thomas (Kyle Chandler), whom Sutter hasn't seen since, although his married older sister Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) apparently has. And Aimee's demanding, widowed mother clings so tightly to Aimee that her going away to college seems out of the question.

In order to grow up and move on, both adolescents must confront their uneasy parents and resolve their respective conflicts.

What makes this coming-of-age melodrama work is Teller's ("Footloose") naturalistic, unpretentiously charming performance, countered by the genuine guilelessness exuded by Woodley ("The Descendants"). Filmed in and around Athens, Georgia, it exemplifies small-town America.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Spectacular Now" is a compassionate 7, striking a bittersweet note of unaffected authenticity as the summer concludes.

"PLANES"

Given the staggering amount of money the Walt Disney Co. made from their "Cars" franchise, it's not surprising that their "imagineers" have now taken flight. So buckle up!

This time, a feisty little airplane named Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is determined to escape his humdrum life of spraying fertilizer on farm fields and enter an around-the-world race intended for much more sleek, sophisticated aircraft -- like egotistical Ripslinger (voiced by Roger Craig Smith), who has won the race three times and is determined to add this fourth win. (If the plot seems predictable, you probably saw "Turbo," released earlier this summer, about a garden snail determined to race in the Indy 500.)

Plucky Dusty is reluctantly coached by Skipper (voiced by Stacy Keach), an old Navy Corsair who spins World War II stories. Dusty's support team includes his dim-witted fuel-truck buddy Chug (Brad Garrett) and perky Dottie (voiced by Teri Hatcher), the forklift. Keeping an eagle eye on international sales, the air racers stop all around the globe -- and there's an amusing joke about reincarnation over India.

For tiny tots, the only scary part comes when Dusty faces real danger during a turbulent storm at sea. Because he's afraid of heights, Dusty's always flown low and now he's flying frighteningly close to the roiling waves.

In addition to Dusty, there are other high-flyin' competitors, like Mexico's El Chupacabra (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui), who ardently woos French-Canadian Rochelle (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Britain's veteran Bulldog (voiced by John Cleese) with his stiff-upper-propeller, who is enamored with the sassy Indian jet-setter Ishani (voiced by Priyanka Chopra).

Animated by DisneyToon Studios, known for its low-budget sequels to Disney classics, it's decidedly second rate. Stereotypically scripted by Jeffrey M. Howard, based on a story by director Klay Hall, executive producer John Lasseter and Howard, it's similar to "Cars" in that these aircraft are sentient -- they think and they talk.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Disney's "Planes" barely lifts with a flimsy 5 -- weighted down with an air of familiarity.

"PARANOIA"

You've got to wonder why top-notch actors like Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman didn't spy the credibility pitfalls and all-too-obvious loopholes in Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy's screen adaptation of Joseph Finder's 2004 novel.

When ambitious programmer Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) and his low-level techie team (Lucas Till, Angela Sarafyan) are summarily fired after their smartphone-enhanced presentation fails to impress head honcho Nicolas Wyatt (Oldman), they vow revenge. So Cassidy takes everyone out, drinking Ciroq on a trendy bar binge, using his company credit card.

Not surprisingly, nasty billionaire Wyatt summons Cassidy to his heavily guarded mansion to exact retribution -- blackmail in the form of corporate espionage. After considerable coaching in executive culture by Wyatt's icy confidante/psychologist, Judith Bolton (Embeth Davidz), Cassidy's sent to work for and ingratiate himself with Wyatt's former mentor/now rival Jock Goddard (Ford) at Eikon (pronounced "Icahn") Corp. and steal his sleek smartphone secrets. He keeps that illegal, immoral assignment secret from his former security guard father (Richard Dreyfuss), who has emphysema and lives in working-class Brooklyn.

He also deceives Goddard's marketing director, snarky Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), whom he's bedding. Predictably, Cassidy gets caught in the billionaire tycoons' ferocious feud, which is complicated by the intimidating appearance of an FBI agent (Josh Holoway from "Lost"), determined to uncover the duplicitous deception.

Problem is, it's far too slick and simplistic, incongruously set in Manhattan, rather than Seattle or California's Silicon Valley -- and the formulaic direction by Robert Luketic ("Legally Blonde," "The Ugly Truth") doesn't help.

Hunky 23-year-old Australian actor Hemsworth has become known as Jennifer Lawrence's co-star in the "Hunger Games" franchise and pop star Miley Cyrus' off-screen romantic interest. But he seriously lacks the kind of compelling charisma that oozes from Ford (even with his shaved head) and Oldman, or even his older brother, Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor in "The Avengers."

And Junkie XL's electronic score is jarring and disconcerting.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Paranoia" is a dumbed-down 5. It's totally lacking in suspense and common sense.