What’s playing in Madison theaters, June 28-July 4, 2013


All week

“The Heat” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance) — Watch your back, Rizzoli & Isles! You’ve got company in the female buddy-cop genre with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as the typical Odd Couple fighting crime. The trailer doesn’t look great, but it’s directed by Paul Feig of “Bridesmaids” fame, so here’s hoping.

White House Down” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — My full review is here. Channing Tatum plays a wannabe Secret Service agent who rescues the President (Jamie Foxx) when mercenaries storm the White House. It’s a surprisingly fun time at the movies, witty and just smart enough not to insult your intelligence. Plus lots of stuff blows up.

Ambikapathy” (Star Cinema) — A Hindu boy recalls his doomed love for a Muslim girl in this Bollywood hit, now dubbed into Tamil.


“Rooftop Cinema: Adventures in Space and Time” (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., 9:30 p.m.) — The last of the June series is an eclectic collection of shorts that all have to do with perspective in some way, including a witty short that looks at an odometer turning from 99,999 miles to 100,000. (It was more impressive in the analog days, kids.) FREE! for MMOCA members, $7 for everyone else.


Muppets From Space” (Memorial Union Terrace, 9 p.m.) — Well, it’s “Muppets FROM Space” not “Muppets IN Space,’ which is a little bit of a letdown. Gonzo’s alien brethren come to Earth to find him in this ’90s movie, which features a lot of ’70s funk on the soundtrack for some reason. I’m sure twentysomethings remember it fondly the way they do “Space Jam,” but the 2011 “Muppets” reboot couldn’t come fast enough for me. FREE!

Django Unchained” (Star Cinema, 10 p.m.) — AMC Theatres has a nifty “Summer Nights” promotion going on this summer. See some of your favorite recent movies for $3 Monday through Wednesday nights, with proceeds going to benefit autism research. This week’s offering is Quentin Tarantino’s bloody and riotous mash-up of the Western and blaxploitation genres, which ends up facing America’s racist past more honestly than a lot of much more polite films.


Django Unchained” (Star Cinema, 10 p.m.) — See Monday listing

Opens Wednesday

Despicable Me 2” (Eastgate, Point, Star Cinema) — Steve Carell returns as the lovable supervillain turned superdad Gru, who must foil the plot of his former comrades-in-badness. The first one was a unexpectedly enjoyable animated movie, and as long as there’s a return appearance of the “fart gun” my kids will be happy.

The Lone Ranger” (Eastgate, Point, Star Cinema) — Johnny Depp is Tonto and Armie Hammer is the Masked Man as Gore Verbinski tries to translate the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to the Western genre. Anybody else getting a “Wild, Wild West” vibe off of this?

Django Unchained” (Star Cinema, 10 p.m.) — See Monday listing

“White House Down”: Four score and twenty bullets ago . . .


“White House Down” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, and Star Cinema. PG-13, 1:56, three stars out of four

It was right about the time Channing Tatum was doing donuts in the presidential limo on the south lawn of the White House, tearing up turf as the bad guys chasing him fired from roof-mounted machine guns, that I suspected “White House Down” would not be a nuanced film about geopolitics.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Right about the moment I saw the words “A Roland Emmerich Film” during the opening credits, I knew I was in for something ridiculous. This is a director, after all, who has assaulted the world with aliens, Godzilla, flash-freeze global warming, and a Mayan calendar that as it turns out was not all that accurate. And the thing you have to shake your head and kinda admire about a Roland Emmerich film is that he creates such goofy CGI mayhem so humorlessly, as if the world desperately needs to see itself flattened and fricaseed again and again.

Except for “White House Down.” Though assuredly as nutballs as its predecessors in the Emmerich oeuvre, this is a really fun action movie, and acutely aware it’s a really fun action movie. Unlike the sober R-rated “Olympus Has Fallen” of just a few months ago, “White House” down is fleet-footed and enjoyable, finding room for plenty of laughs within the mayhem.

While “This Is The End” fans know this could only be the second-best Channing Tatum film of the summer, he exudes movie-star aw-shucks charisma as John Cale, a Capitol Security agent protecting the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins). Cale wants to move up to the White House, mostly to impress his disaffected 11-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King), who is a freak for presidential trivia. (I mean, what 11-year-old girl isn’t, am I right, parents?) He takes her a long on his job interview at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and while they’re there, all CGI hell breaks loose.

Mercenaries led by the glowering Jason Clarke of “Zero Dark Thirty” take over the White House in a manner that’s just plausible enough to be unsettling, their sights on President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Apparently Sawyer’s plan for a major peace treaty that involves pulling all U.S. troops out of the Middle East doesn’t sit well with defense contractors. But Cale rescues the president, and the pair sneak around the White House, from the residence on the top floor to the catacombs where JFK allegedly smuggled in Marilyn, trying to stop the bad guys and save the day.

Yes, it’s “Die Hard in the West Wing,” and “White House Down” isn’t shy about driving the comparison home, having Tatum storm the halls in a very McClane-esque white wife-beater, and making one villain, a fey hacker, awfully fond of Beethoven (but Beethoven’s Fifth, not “Ode to Joy.”) Truth be told, “White House” could teach a few lessons to the sputtering “Die Hard” franchise. Emmerich and screenwriter James Vanderbilt effectively use the enclosed spaces of the building to create tense, well-staged action sequences, and effectively crosscut with plucky young Emily’s attempts to send info about the mercs to the outside world, as well as lots of frowny-faced officials in various control rooms. Michael Murphy, who recently charmed audiences at the Wisconsin Film Festival, even gets to play the Veep, although he spends most of the movie on Air Force Two and may be up for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor on Skype.

But what makes the movie click is the connection between Tatum and Foxx, who both sell the audience on the stakes involved while still being a very funny team. The movie loses a little of its zip about two-thirds of the way through, when plot requirements force Cale and Sawyer to split up, and Emmerich starts getting more concerned with large-scale destruction and a “fate of the free world is at stake” escalation in the plot. Although, it may be considered a newfound sign of maturity in Emmerich that only the free part of the world risks annihilation this time around, and not the whole enchilada.

DVD review: “As Luck Would Have It”


A middle-aged man loses his job in advertising, gets accosted by a homeless man, stuck in rush hour traffic, and then accidentally falls on an iron rod that impales itself in the back of his head.

This could be his lucky day.

That’s the premise behind “As Luck Would Have it,” out this week on DVD and VOD from IFC Films/Sundance Selects, a pitch-black satire about fame and the media from Spanish writer-director Alex de la Iglesia. The man, Roberto (Jose Mota) was crawling around the site of an ancient Roman theater in Cartagena when he fell onto the rod, piercing his skull. Lying there at center stage, he feels fine, but doctors worry how to extricate him from the rod without killing him.

Pretty soon, Roberto becomes sort of a middle-aged Baby Jessica, as reporters swarm the theater, well-wishers hold up signs and cheer, and agents jockey for the rights to his story. While other movies might have made Roberto a hopeless naif in the center of a well of corruption, “Luck” makes Roberto complicit in his own exploitation; he tries to negotiate a better deal for himself for an exclusive interview, even agrees to hold a six-pack of mojitos for some product placement money. For a guy about to be sucked into the Great Recession, getting stabbed in the head was a windfall. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Salma Hayek is the most famous name in the credits for American audiences, playing Roberto’s doting wife Luisa, who tries to hold the media hordes at bay. She’s also the one truly good person in the film — even the devoted doctor looking after Roberto can’t help but call his wife and ask how he looked on television. Fame corrupts everyone, the movie suggests, and in today’s reality TV-soaked culture, you need to be a celebrity like you need a hole in the head.

Where other filmmakers, particularly Americans, might have checked their swing, de la Iglesia follows through on his dark portrait of our obsessed culture, where every calamity is a new program to watch on 24-hour cable news.

AMC Theatres launches RunPee, for those who need their phone to tell them when to use the bathroom


Now I’ve seen everything. AMC Theatres sent out a press release Monday touting its updated app, and along with the expected bells and whistles, such as linking it to their AMC Stubs rewards account was something called RunPee.

Horrible name. Revolutionary concept?

The premise behind RunPee, which began as a website (RunPee.com) and then a 99-cent app of its own before being folded into AMC’s, is that everybody needs to go to the bathroom at some point during a movie. (This may be the final stake in Mayor Bloomberg’s war against oversized sodas, as the populace adapts to consuming gallons of carbonated fluid rather than cutting back.) But nobody wants to miss three or four minutes in the middle of the movie.

So the original RunPee app would vibrate at a certain point midway through the film. It gives you a four-minute window to go to the bathroom (your mileage may vary) and then gives you a summary of those four minutes of plot. The AMC version doesn’t vibrate — it just tells you when to go and what you missed. This is something grown men and women are supposed to need.

For example, for “World War Z,” RunPee gives you three options of when to flee for the restroom. At 49 minutes in, your cue to leave is when Mireille Enos says “Gerry, I tried to call you.”  Go relieve yourself, and the app tells you that you missed the part where Gerry lands in Jerusalem and learns the Israelis have used giant walls to keep out the zombies. (Which seems kind of important to me, but whatever. RunPee seems more concerned that you don’t miss an action sequence than any actual plot.)

RunPee, in other words, is for that small subset of moviegoers who apparently check their phone regularly during the movie and yet can’t bear the thought of missing two minutes of a movie. And if AMC is officially sanctioning this, can we do away with the pre-screening admonishments about talking and using cell phones in the theater? It seems like letting your phone tell you when to go to the bathroom during a movie starts us down a slippery slope indeed.

Also, I couldn’t help noting that while “World War Z” offers three RunPee moments, “Monsters University” offers only one, which leads me to think the RunPee people have never seen a movie with a child. I would need RunPee options every five minutes if I had a kid in tow, just in case. Also, RunPee doesn’t seem to solve the problem of somebody in your row barging past you in the middle of the movie to go to the bathroom. Maybe RunPee 2.0 could sync up the phones in a given row so that everybody goes at the same time.

It seems like a silly concept to me, but AMC must like it enough to include it in their new app. Another, simpler option might be to simply go before the movie starts, or else not consume a beverage that’s the weight of a small child during the film. But how much fun is that?

Instant Gratification: “Any Day Now” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix right now


Every Tuesday, the Instant Gratification column gives you five recommendations for movies that have recently started streaming on Netflix Instant. Sometimes we go way off the beaten path — sometimes we stay right on it.

Pick of the week: “Any Day Now” — Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt star in this well-acted drama about a gay couple in 1970s Los Angeles who try to adopt a homeless teen with Down’s syndrome, only to encounter a wave of official prejudice. Aside from being a moving film, it’s a testament to how far gay rights have come in America in the last 30 years, and how far we still have to go.

Children’s movie of the week: “Mulan” — Netflix just added several Disney films to the lineup, and the best of them is this rousing adventure from 1997, in which a Chinese girl (Ming-Na Wen) has to save her father’s kingdom. I thought Eddie Murphy as the wisecracking dragon was funnier than Eddie Murphy as the wisecracking donkey in all the Shrek movies.

Documentary of the week: “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” — Werner Herzog recut and narrated this Russian documentary about people living in remote, brutal Siberia, using survival techniques not much different from their ancestors a century before. We’ll take your word for it that they’re happy, Werner.

Blockbuster of the week: “The Avengers” — Joss Whedon delivered an incredibly fun superhero that was greater than the sum of its parts, mixing eye-popping action with humor and a genuine amount of emotion. The actors work as smoothly together as the heroes must, and Tom Hiddleston is a blast as the sinister Loki.

Comedy of the week: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” — Not really a kids’ movie, but they’ll probably like this 1988 spin on classic noir, in which humans and Toons live side by side, and a private eye (Bob Hoskins) gets drawn into both worlds in late ’40s Hollywood.

Writing about “Gideon’s Army” and “Much Ado About Nothing”


I’ve done some movie-related writing lately over at the Capital Times, so I thought I’d link to a couple of articles, plus a recent podcast I was on. Expanding the boundaries of the blog or shameless self-promotion — you be the judge.

First, I learned that “Much Ado About Nothing” star Amy Acker and co-star Emma Bates don’t just have Shakespeare in their bones — they have Wisconsin, too. Bates studied theater at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and in 1999 both of them spent the summer at Spring Green’s American Players Theatre, including appearing together in a production of — wait for it — “Much Ado About Nothing”! I couldn’t find Bates’ role in the press clips, but Acker, who had just graduated from college, played young ingénue Hero. The movie is now playing at Sundance.

Second, the most-read story on the captimes.com last week was a story I wrote back in April on a Wisconsin Film Festival screening of the documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” a terrific film that looks at the battles of three public defenders in the South. It premieres on HBO on July 2, but that’s not why it got the most traffic. For that, thank the good folks at Reddit, after user PennilessGent mentioned a detail from the story, that one of the public defenders has the names of the defendants of every case he ever lost in court tattooed on his back. Thanks, Reddit!

Also, I wanted to make sure to link from the blog to the recent Madison Arts Extract podcast I appeared on last week. It was a great half-hour chat between Mark Riechers, Ben Munson and myself. The first segment covers the UW-Cinematheque’s Roger Ebert tribute series that starts July 12, while the second was a freewheeling discussion about how to build a local film culture when so many people are streaming movies online rather than seeing them at their local theater. It’s also the last podcast Riechers hosted before moving to Chicago, so I felt honored to be a part of it.

What’s playing in Madison theaters, June 21-27, 2013


All week

“World War Z” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance) My full review is here. The cinematic apocalypse this week is a zombie invasion, where seemingly half the globe has turned into fast-moving, chomping undead. Hardly a novel idea, but the movie has some inventive and thrilling action sequences.

“Monsters University” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) Pixar’s focus on sequels and prequels to its established franchises (“Finding Dory” is next) is distressing for what used to be the most innovative animation house around. Still, Mike and Sully are two of Pixar’s most endearing characters.

“The Bling Ring” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance) Sofia Coppola’s fascinating with the privileged and famous continues with this fact-based drama about a group of rich kids who rob the gargantuan closets of Paris Hilton and others.

“Much Ado About Nothing” (Sundance) My full review is here. Joss Whedon’s joyful adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” was shot on black-and-white in just 12 days at his house, but this is no goof, but a smart, disciplined, and incredibly fun film.

“The East” (Sundance) Zal Batmanglij’s “Sound of My Voice” was one of the best paranoid thrillers of recent years, and he hits the same vein here, with collaborator Brit Marling starring as a corporate spy infiltrating an anarchist movement.


“Quantum of Vengeance” (1 p.m., High Noon Saloon) — Not a sequel to the weakest of the Daniel Craig 007 movies, this locally-made sci-fi film from Ben Wydeven follows a woman using time travel to prevent her father’s murder. There’ll be a post-show Q&A and copies of the film available for purchase. $5.


“Alien” (9 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace, 800 Langdon St.) — In space nobody can hear you scream, but everybody can on a crowded Terrace for Lakeside Cinema’s presentation of the chilling original sci-fi horror movie. Free!


“Schindler’s List” (1:05 and 6:55 p.m., Sundance) — I’m curious how Steven Spielberg’s harrowing Holocaust drama plays for the Sundance Classics crowd, who tend to show up more for sheer entertainments. But it’s an undeniably great film, and I know at least a couple of people who have never seen it who are going.

“World War Z”: The undead are Pitted against the living


“World War Z” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. PG-13, 1:55, three stars out of four.

Having just seen the world get decimated last week by fire, brimstone and well-endowed demons in “This is the End,” I wasn’t sure if I was ready to reboot for yet another end-of-the-world tale (this one a lot more serious than “End.”) But Marc Forster’s “World War Z,” based on Max Brooks’ clever bestseller, delivers the doomsday goods, with a fresh take on the zombie thriller that’s just smart enough to stand apart from the blockbuster pack.

Zombies are so well-known to moviegoers that I should start by classifying this batch — they’re the fast-running kind, who tackle their prey like lions taking down a springbok on the savannah. They don’t eat their victims (lucky for a movie that wants a PG-13 rating), but bite quickly, deliver the zombie virus, and move on to the next target.

We see this process take place in a well-choreographed early scene in Philadelphia, where thousands run from the zombies through the city streets, thousands turning into hundreds as the fast-moving virus creates new hosts. Caught in the chaos in former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family. They escape the carnage for Newark (not the first place I’d choose for a safe haven), and then are airlifted to an aircraft carrier, where a deal is struck. If Gerry travels the globe searching for a cure, his family can stay safe and sound on the ship.

Like the James Bond of undead pathology, Gerry hops from location to location, from South Korea to Jerusalem to Wales, stopping just long enough for a vital clue and an action scene before moving on. Fortunately, the action sequences are all inventive and well-executed, with the zombies not just attacking but swarming en masse.

In the film’s showpiece, thousands of zombies attempt to breach a wall surrounding Jerusalem by climbing up the side in a giant mound, like ants. But just as effective is a scene when a zombie gets on board a commercial airplane, creating an undead wave that starts in coach and scuttles forward. (Will they show that scene on the in-flight movie, or worry that nervous travelers have enough on their plate?)

Through it all, Pitt plays a low-key intensity, trying to piece together the clues to find a way to stop or at least delay the spread. The ending of “World War Z” feels a little muddled, as if it’s both trying to provide a satisfying conclusion and leave the door open for a sequel. But the ride along the way provides enough thrills without insulting your intelligence.

“Much Ado About Nothing”: Joss Whedon’s joyful idea of a home movie


“Much Ado About Nothing” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. PG-13, 1:49, 4 stars out of 4.

Joss Whedon threw a party and a Shakespeare movie broke out.

The writer-director behind “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” and “The Avengers” is known for throwing parties at his Los Angeles home where the guests stage plays by the Bard over wine and hors d’oeuvres. On a break between shooting and editing “The Avengers,” Whedon decided to take the next logical step and film a movie.

But this is no for-fans-only curio meant just for the Whedonverse. Whedon’s effervescent adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” is utterly delightful, brimming with good humor and romance and a fair bit of wine. And while you can sense the easy camaraderie and chemistry among the cast, many of whom are friends who have worked with Whedon before, the film doesn’t coast on its homey goodwill. It’s actually a very smart and disciplined adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

For example, Whedon adds a wordless prologue to Shakespeare’s story featuring the uncomfortable aftermath to a one-night stand between Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker). The tension mmediately and cleverly explains both their visible animosity towards each other (Benedick certainly earns his name’s last syllable), and the tender feelings lurking beneath their barbs.

In the film, Benedick has arrived with the prince, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond of “Homicide”) to the home of Beatrice’s uncle, Leonato (Clark Gregg of “The Avengers.”) Tired of war, the men are looking for wine, women and song, if not necessarily in that order. (“We are the only love-gods,” Pedro purrs.) While Benedick and Beatrice spar, Claudio (Fran Kranz) is making goo-goo eyes at young Hero (Jillian Morgese).

Because apparently nobody can fall in love in this play without being tricked into doing so, much hijinks ensue, involving eavesdropping, masks and mistaken identities. As Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into revealing their true feelings for each other, Claudio and Hero find their love tested by the malevolent deceptions of the prince’s illegitimate brother, Don John (Sean Maher of “Firefly.”) But, to quote another play, all’s well that end’s well.

The action is all set in modern times, which doesn’t always square with some of the outdated attitudes towards women in the play, such as the “shaming” of Hero that Don John engineers. Leonato’s home is Whedon’s actual home, which leads to some great visual gags, such as Benedick and Claudio musing dreamy-eyed about love while sitting on the tiny beds in Whedon’s daughters’ bedroom.

Acker and Denisof, who played doomed lovers on Whedon’s “Angel,” have wonderful comic and romantic chemistry; Morgese and Kranz less so, though Shakespeare didn’t give Hero and Claudio much to do other than be yanked together and apart by the plotting of others. Whedon revels in comic stagings, with Beatrice hiding under the breakfast nook to eavesdrop, or Benedick puffing himself up like a peacock when he thinks Beatrice has hidden feelings for him.

The comedy hits high gear when Nathan Fillion (“Firefly,” also currently on “Castle”) fills the screen as the incompetent constable Dogberry. With his huge frame and holstered gun, Fillion plays Dogberry hilariously as a hard-nosed TV cop who has no clue how far behind the curve he really is.

Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a fun and fluid production that shows all you need to do Shakespeare right is some talented actors, the Bard’s own words, and a director who knows what to do with them all. And some wine helps, too.

Sundance Classics goes back to the ’50s (through the ’70s and ’80s)


Last Wednesday, I had to beg, borrow and steal to get myself a seat to the sold-out screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at Sundance Cinemas. I should have known to get to the theater earlier — that series routinely packs the theater on Wednesday nights. “E.T.,” which screens today at the theater, should be no exception. Even if you know the movie by heart (as I do with “Raiders”), it’s still so much fun to see it on a big screen with a big crowd. (Everybody still laughed when Indy shot the swordsman.)

Over on its facebook page, Sundance Cinemsa posted the schedule for its Summer Classics series, which looks like a blast. The theme (with one glaring exception) seems to be movies set in the ’50s but not made in the ’50s. So it’s a calendar of Enchantment Under the Sea dances, dirty dancing, and summer lovin’.

July 10 — “”Grease” — The 1978 musical is beloved by many. This is not intended to be one of those “singalong” screenings, but I bet will turn into one anyway.

July 1y — “Back to the Future” — Marty McFly goes from the ’80s to the ’50s in Robert Zemeckis’ clever and wildly entertaining sci-fi comedy.

July 24 — “Animal House” — Every Judd Apatow comedy, every Seth Rogen film ought to bow down and pay homage to the king of R-rated comedy.

July 31 — “American Graffiti” — Yes, George Lucas made this elegaic look back at the ’50s, with impossibly young Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford playing teens.

Aug. 7 — “Ghostbusters” — No ’50s tie-in here, but it’s the movie that I most associate with summer moviegoing. I can still vividly remember a Friday night screening in 1984, and how the audience of teenagers roared when Bill Murray said “It’s true. This man has no dick.”

Aug. 14 — “Dirty Dancing” — Nobody puts baby in a corner.

Between the six of them, there’s probably 1,000 quotable lines of dialogue. It should be a fun summer at the movies. Visit sundancecinemas.com for more information.