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Weekend Preview: ‘Side by Side’ & ‘The Awakening’ Best Bets Over Divisive ‘Sparkle,’ ‘Cosmopolis’ and ‘Robot & Frank’

Weekend Preview: 'Side by Side' & 'The Awakening' Best Bets Over Divisive 'Sparkle,' 'Cosmopolis' and 'Robot & Frank'

There’s no shortage of films opening this weekend, but many will be disappointments if you go in with high expectations. The safest bet is Chris Kenneally’s doc Side by Side,” which is both a treat for film buffs and a primer for anyone looking to get behind a camera in today’s fast-changing digital landscape. Also getting strong reviews is Craig Zobel’s Sundance entry Compliance,” which is suitably disturbing given the true story behind it, but its real-life grittiness is undermined by casting an actress who looks like a stripper to play a small town teenage girl.

The Awakening,” while it certainly has its flaws, marks a cinematically satisfying debut from director Nick Murphy. Starring Rebecca Hall and the “The Wire”‘s Dominic West, the film is gorgeously lensed (on 35mm) in stunning texturaly period settings by Eduard Grau (“A Single Man”).

David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” is a frustrating and pretentious noble failure (others at TOH disagree). The comely and cold Pattinson has potential, but so far he’s been used as a mouthpiece for a director, not as a vessel for an actual character.

“Robot & Frank,” meanwhile, is mostly a waste of Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon (if not a ripoff of the far superior “Lovely, Still”), intermittently elevated by spurts of humor. It dives headfirst into cliche as soon as it hears the denouement bells.

Despite their flaws, each of these films can be thankful they aren’t “Sparkle.” It’s bad enough that the script both capitalizes on Whitney Houston’s troubled past and eerily foreshadows her tragic death, but the film also fails to give us any other likeable characters. Winning “American Idol” does not a movie star make (lead Jordan Sparks). The film delivers only lackluster musical numbers against a backdrop of racist and sexist cliches. That this film is in no way a celebration of Houston’s talent or life makes it even more disappointing.

Trailers, reviews and more details on these films and more are below:

“Side by Side” Tribeca Film, US | DIR: Chris Kenneally WITH: Keanu Reeves, David Fincher, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister, Lena Dunham, Greta Gerwig & more | 100% Fresh | ComingSoon: “Mandatory viewing for anyone who loves movies and has any interest in learning more about how they’re made and how that’s been changing in the last few years.” | TOH interview with Kenneally, Clips.

“The Expendables 2” Lionsgate, US | DIR: Simon West CAST: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzzenegger | 62% Fresh | Variety: “Redundant, bombastic and cheekily self-aware, The Expendables 2 is also savvy enough to supply its own auto-critique.”

“Cosmopolis” Entertainment One, FR/CAN | DIR: David Cronenberg CAST: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche | 64% Fresh | Village Voice: “We’re supposed to be feeling . . . something. That we don’t might be Cronenberg’s own endgame.”

“ParaNorman” Focus Features, US | DIR: Chris Butler VOICE CAST: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann | 86% Fresh | Time Out NY: “This is the kind of grim fairy tale, equal parts midnight-movie macabre and family-round-the-hearth compassionate, that scars in all the right ways.” | TOH interview with directors.

“The Awakening” Cohen Media Group, UK | DIR: Nick Murphy CAST: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton | 66% Fresh | THR: “A too-rare instance in which a gifted young actor signs on for a fright flick without coming away tainted, The Awakening places Rebecca Hall in a convincing historical setting and gives her more to do than widen her eyes in fear.”

“Compliance” Magnolia, US | DIR: Craig Zobel CAST: Ann Dowd, Pat Healy, Dreama Walker, Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger | 93% Fresh | Variety: “In taut, gripping and deeply disturbing fashion, writer-director Craig Zobel measures the depths to which rational individuals will sink to obey a self-anointed authority figure in Compliance.”

“Beloved” IFC, FR/UK/CZ | DIR: Christophe Honoré CAST: Rasha Bukvic, Catherine Deneuve, Milos Forman, Louis Garrel, Chiara Mastroianni, Ludivine Sagnier, Paul Schneider | 62% Fresh | Village Voice: “A sprawling mess of multiple romantic triangles in which all the angles are obtuse.”

Robot and Frank Samuel Goldwyn Films, US | DIR: Jake Schreier CAST: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler | 85% Fresh | Film School Rejects: “When the film allows itself to slack, it slumps almost irrevocably, and it never quite recovers from an unsatisfying and overemotional middle.”

“Sparkle” TriStar, US | Dir: Salim Akil CAST: Jordan Sparks, Whitney Houston, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter | 55% Rotten | Slant: “Whitney Houston’s death is just about the only thing that gives the film real, albeit mostly unintentional, life.”

Trailers below:

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