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In Theaters: ‘The Master’ Hopes To Not Have The Weekend ‘Stolen’ By ‘Resident Evil’ Or ‘Liberal Arts’

In Theaters: 'The Master' Hopes To Not Have The Weekend 'Stolen' By 'Resident Evil' Or 'Liberal Arts'

It’s back-to-school season, in the real world and in Movieland, as art continues to imitate life. As you (or your kids, or a friend, or maybe just some random person on the corner) get back into the swing of the classroom, you can watch the big screen stars do the same thing! We do mean this literally, as two films this weekend are set within the hallowed walls of institutions of learning. But there are plenty of protagonists receiving informal educations (to Scientology… question mark?), learning new trades, and reintroducing themselves to the world as well. So go hit the books, then the theaters. Or vice versa: we won’t tattle.

Blazing guns, dismembered body parts, and Milla Jovovich in skin-tight leather mark the return of the zombie apocalypse in Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth installment of this franchise. When a mega-conglomerate releases a biological weapon that turns those it infects into the drooling, stumbling, flesh-eating undead, mistress mercenary Alice (Jovovich) and her sexy sidekick, Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), must take out the monsters and corporate mandates alike. (Apparently, there’s no vaccine for zombies available just yet.) The heavily computer-generated world, all rendered in 3D, is fit to bursting with explosions and slow-motion fight sequences, so much so that it left little room for any convincing plot. Oh well – fight on, Alice! Michelle Rodriguez and Sienna Guillory co-star. Metacritic: no score yet Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet

The Master,” from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, may or may not be an allegory for the story of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. But either way, it’s shot spectacularly on 70mm, creating a rare viewing experience. Upon returning to the States, World War II vet Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) takes to drifting through life, seemingly without any purpose or permanence. But when he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is spreading the word of his quasi-religion called the Cause with the help of his wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), Freddie is instilled with an awakened drive. A breadth of self-destructive tendencies, however, is not as easily overcome as his ennui. While our review lauds many elements of “The Master,” saying “the film marks an undeniable progression in the career of one of our most gifted directors,” it also admits that it is “a picture that’s somewhat at odds with itself,” and “like a film to admire (enormously) rather than to cherish, because of the way it hangs together as a whole.” MC: 87 RT: 85%

An ensemble cast of notable up-and-comers plays a group of late twentysomethings reunited “10 Years” after graduating from high school in this Jamie Linden-written and –directed feature. The variety of interweaving plots include drinking, apologizing for past offenses, unfinished love stories, drinking, reliving glory days, catching up, and, oh yeah, drinking. Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Kate Mara, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Anthony Mackie, Justin Long and a whole bunch of other people all star. Our review admires the performances, but calls the film “a disappointment and a missed opportunity,” concluding, “what could have been an honest look at contemporary soon-to-be thirtysomethings and the challenges, fears and triumphs they have endured, ‘10 Years’ delivers a mixed bag of CW plots that at worst are cliché and predictable, with a very few that do stand out.” MC: 61 RT: 79%

A hedge fund manager juggles his quickly collapsing personal and professional lives in “Arbitrage,” written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is struggling to sell a company that’s fallen deep into debt, hoping to keep his unscrupulous business practices a secret from his CFO (and daughter, played by Brit Marling) and his extramarital affair a secret from his wife (Susan Sarandon). Meanwhile, he’s the subject of an investigation led by Detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), presumably for all that unethical, white-collar criminal behavior. Timely! Nate Parker and Laetitia Casta co-star. Our review says, “Jarecki plays off our natural sympathies well,” and that “much of the appeal comes from Gere’s softly breathless turn as Miller.” MC: 73 RT: 82%

He couldn’t stay away forever: Nicolas Cage stars in another action-thriller this weekend, the Simon West-directed “Stolen.” Upon being released from jail, Will Montgomery (Cage) discovers that the partner he thought was dead (Josh Lucas) was only faking. Yay! Only, said partner wants his share of the $10 million cash prize from the job that put Will in the clink, and has taken (sorry, stolen; we wouldn’t want to get our thrillers confused here) his daughter as collateral. Boo. To recoup the money, Will has to pull a new heist, evading the gaze of watchful cop Tim Harlend (Danny Huston). In sum: expect overacting, guns, and a bristly beard and crazy eyes from… Lucas (totally not who you thought we were going to say, right?). MC: no score yet RT: no score yet

One of the central questions of Broadway hit “Avenue Q” is rehashed (at a whole new echelon of affected metaphysical angst; the puppets really help quell that) in writer-director Josh Radnor’s “Liberal Arts.” Having received his B.A. over 10 years ago, 35-year-old Jesse (Radnor) is no closer to finding his calling than he was at 22. So when a former professor (Richard Jenkins) asks him up to his alma mater, Jesse is off to campus like a shot. Once there, he connects instantly with a fresh-faced 19-year-old (Elizabeth Olsen), and the two begin a deep and life-altering relationship that includes sending handwritten letters and sharing opera music. Allison Janney, Zac Efron, John Magro, and Elizabeth Reaser round out the supporting cast. Our review says, “some of the insights are a bit simplistic but for most of the running time, the film is an enjoyable diversion,” concluding, “[Radnor’s] heart is clearly in the right place.” MC: 52 RT: 59%

Hot on the heels of several other mouth-watering documentaries is Paul Lacoste‘s “Step Up to the Plate,” which offers an insider glance at Bras, a three-star Michelin restaurant located in the south of France. Owned by Michel Bras and his son, Sébastien, the eatery is a family legacy, and much of the film is devoted to illustrating how the duo is preparing for the eventual handoff to Bras the Younger. Yet there’s also no shortage of luscious shots that showcase the food they prepare, edible works of art plated for each patron. You might not want to go into this film hungry. MC: 71 RT: 50%

The slice-of-life indie flick “Francine,” from directing duo Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatsky, opened Wednesday. Melissa Leo plays Francine, a woman who, following her release from prison, cottons to animals and the ease of loving and connecting with them, as opposed to the difficulties she faces when interacting with other people. The film follows the protagonist over the next few weeks, as she accumulates a veritable zoo and floats between various jobs, examining her headspace as she readjusts to civilian life. Our review praises a strong performance from Leo and says, “as a story, ‘Francine’ lacks a great deal. But as a series of minutely observed details that illustrate a person’s state of mind, it is impressive.” MC: 63 RT: 80%

And, finally, Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” joins the ranks of animated films that have been converted to 3D for a second whirl in theaters. According to our review, the tale of a father clownfish combing the ocean for his lost son “is just as beautiful, heartfelt, and involving as it was in 2003,” and the rerelease “might be the best late-game conversion yet, with the characters suspended right in front of you, like you’re staring into a widescreen aquarium.” MC: 89 (original release) RT: 99%

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