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In Theaters: ‘Looper’ ‘Won’t Back Down’ From ‘Hotel Transylvania;’ ‘Pitch Perfect’ May Be ‘The Other Dream Team’

In Theaters: 'Looper' 'Won’t Back Down' From 'Hotel Transylvania;' 'Pitch Perfect' May Be 'The Other Dream Team'

In case anyone was feeling too happy, the potential ruin of the human race is out in full celebratory regalia this weekend. Inescapable hit men, broken education systems, a Puritan-era killing machine, and a grifting mommy make up just a taste of the gleeful subject matter. And – for a lift – documentaries are here in spades this week as well, particularly those showcasing major political and social issues. And sports. Sometimes. Oh, is there an election soon? Or are we just gearing up for basketball season? Enjoy, movie lovers!

The newest rendering of a future dystopia is marked by time-traveling crime syndicates in writer-director Rian Johnson‘s “Looper.” Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the titular loopers: a hit man who receives orders from the future (when time traveling exists) to eliminate people in the present (well, 2044) who prove to be problematic later on. Not the brightest line of work, but Joe has a strategy to escape it and move to France. Unfortunately, his travel plans are waylaid when his future self (Bruce Willis) shows up, marked as a target. Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Garret Dillahunt, and Piper Perabo co-star. Our review commends Johnson’s work on the page and behind the camera, as well as the performances, concluding “brainy and entertaining, there is simply nothing like ‘Looper’ you’ve seen at the multiplex in quite some time, and it’s one you’ll want to loop back see again after you leave the theater.” Metacritic: 85 Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Determined parents take the words out of Tom Petty’s mouth in Daniel Barnz’s “Won’t Back Down.” When her daughter doesn’t make it into a charter school, Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) can’t imagine enrolling her in the city’s fraught and inadequate public education system. So she teams up with a disheartened teacher (Viola Davis) to challenge the previously unshakable teachers’ union and resuscitate the faulty program. Holly Hunter plays a union leader bent on defeating the rebels and keeping the empire intact. No, wait – that’s the Emperor from “Star Wars.” The acting is strong, the will for social change admirable, but the mawkishly one-sided drawing doesn’t do justice to the fairly complex issue at the heart of this film. MC: 43 RT: 33%

Dracula (Adam Sandler) contracts a new convention center for all of his spooky friends in “Hotel Transylvania,” from director Genndy Tartakovsky. Wanting to keep his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), safe from dangerous world of humans (well that’s a twist), the vampire king builds a hotel/haven for monsters; the tenants include Frankenstein (Kevin James), a mummy (Cee-Lo Green), a werewolf and his wife (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), and an invisible man (David Spade). Yet despite all this excitement, Mavis is ready to check out, a dream that gains some legs with the arrival of a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg). Our review says the film “is admirably energetic,” and calls the design work “top notch,” but admits, “you just wish that, with so much emphasis on chaos, they could have spent a little more time on character.” MC: 49 RT: 45%

The cutthroat community of college a cappella takes center stage in the Jason Moore-directed, Kay Cannon-written “Pitch Perfect.” Aspiring DJ Beca (Anna Kendrick) makes a promise to her professor father (John Benjamin Hickey) to spend at least one year in college before trying to make it big in the real world. She has low hopes for higher education, but finds passion and a place for herself with an all-female a cappella group (whose members include Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, and Rebel Wilson). It’s not long before Beca’s revamping the song list and the singers themselves, putting the team on the road toward national competition. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins round out the supporting cast. Our review calls out the script, the “rousing music,” and Wilson’s performance as highlights, saying, “‘Pitch Perfect’ is delightfully funny and geeky, and it’s a fun addition to the sub-genre populated by films such as ‘Bring It On’ and ‘Mean Girls’ (and is just as funny).” MC: 62 RT: 76%

James Purefoy is “Solomon Kane,” a ruthless, scornful, bloodthirsty 18th century assassin with a deeply religious side, in this genre flick from writer-director Michael J. Bassett. After unleashing the devil with his band of marauding murderers, the pious Kane begins to fear damnation for his past sins, and takes up with the God-fearing family of William Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite) in the hope of fully atoning. However, it isn’t too long before this clan is attacked by the wild demons as well, and Kane must don his weapons and elicit his lethal tactics once more. Max von Sydow and Rachel Hurd-Wood co-star. Our review says, “a few CGI flaws aside, ‘Kane’ is handsomely assembled, a complete and engrossing universe that rarely skimps on set design. It’s not everyone’s cup of bloody tea, but an unapologetic genre treat for those willing to dive in.” MC: 50 RT: 64%

The Other Dream Team,” from Marius A. Markevicius, documents the lives of four Lithuanian basketball players, from their days playing in a Soviet-occupied territory to several turns at the Olympics. Valdemaras Chomičius, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Arvydas Sabonis were always incredibly talented, but couldn’t imagine playing professionally until they were tapped to join the USSR’s team at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, where they went on to win the gold medal. Potential NBA contracts, the fall of the Soviet Union, and a second turn at the Barcelona Games in 1992 followed. What results is a documentary that is much about the history of Lithuania as it is about the history of these gifted men. Our review says, “not everything works in the movie… But we’ll always be in favor of a documentary that gives too much rather than not enough,” adding, “moving, rousing, funny and at times even haunting, ‘The Other Dream Team’ is ample evidence that sports can indeed sometimes change the world.“ MC: 68 RT: 88%

Till Schauder’s documentary, “The Iran Job,” centers on American basketball player Kevin Sheppard, a onetime NBA hopeful who now plays with various international professional teams. His newest recruitment is in Iran, with a young and inexperienced group called A.S. Shiraz. A combination of game footage, scenes featuring Kevin’s discovery of this foreign world, and shots of the concurrent national politics and protests create powerful portraits of a man and a country alike. Our L.A. Film Fest review says, “‘The Iran Job’ is a highly entertaining, moving documentary that offers a unique perspective on the country through this one man… It’s such a warm, winning tale that seeking it out is worth your while.” MC: no score yet RT: no score yet

Parenting can be tough when you’re a struggling con artist, as seen in “Bringing Up Bobby,” written and directed by Famke Janssen. Ukrainian émigré Olive (Milla Jovovich) settles in Oklahoma with her American-born son, Bobby (Spencer List), hoping to offer him everything she never had growing up. And how does she provide for this better life, you ask? Why, by scamming, thieving, and shoplifting, of course! But when one of these schemes lands Olive in jail and Bobby in the care of a well-to-do couple (Bill Pullman and Marcia Cross), the mother must decide where her son’s best future actually lies. A hackneyed, stagy performance from Jovovich and a story that only paddles inches below the surface leave this passion project – it’s reportedly based on Janssen’s own experiences as an immigrant – reeking of soap opera. MC: 35 RT: 13%

Also opening this weekend: “The Hole,” a 3D frightfest from Joe Dante that sees two brothers and their pretty neighbor exploring a pitch-black hole they find in their basement. When it releases unimaginable evils, the trio has to face their darkest fears to defeat the deep, dark chasm. MC: n/a RT: 81%

Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Noir-esque thriller “Headshot,” in which a bullet to the head leaves a hit man seeing everything upside down. The trauma forces him to reexamine his life – both quite literally and figuratively: flashbacks! – to decide whether he’s taken the right path. MC: 58 RT: 56%

Documentary “The Waiting Room,” from director Peter Nicks, explores the national healthcare crisis through the microcosm of an Oakland public hospital overburdened by uninsured patients. MC: 80 RT: 88%

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