“Blue Jasmine”: A streetcar named Desire meets a train wreck named Cate

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“Blue Jasmine” opens Friday at Point, Star Cinema and Sundance in Madison. PG-13, 1:38, four stars out of four.”

“Blue Jasmine” opens with a disgraced woman fleeing New York City for San Francisco. Yes, only Woody Allen would think a fall from grace would involve relocating from the most expensive city in American to the second-most expensive city in America.

But if Allen is outside his element shooting in San Francisco, so is his heroine Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), and the result is one of the nerviest, freshest films he’s made in a long time. Whereas some of Allen’s films seemed frozen in time (last year’s “To Rome With Love” could have been made any time in the last 50 years), this one feels rooted in the here and now, in the anxieties of the class struggle and the unmooring of social and financial institutions.

Jasmine was the wife of a smooth-talking financier (Alec Baldwin at his oiliest) who turns out to have been a Bernie Madoff-style fraud. Having ripped off all of their friends, Jasmine is forced to flee to San Francisco and her adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Who he also ripped off, but at least she’s family and can’t turn Jasmine away.

The scandal has deeply rattled Jasmine, who probably already had emotional issues, but kept them safely cushioned in the cocoon of wealth and privilege. Alone and exposed, crammed into her sister’s apartment with noisy kids and a hotheated suitor named Chile (Bobby Cannavale), Jasmine is slowly losing her grip. Sometimes, she’s determined to make a new life for herself, taking a job as a dentist’s receptionist and studying to be a interior designer. But she’s fragile, brittle, and the tiniest setback sends her off, prattling on about her old life as if she was still at a charity ball in Manhattan. But her rich friends are ghosts now, haunting her with memories of the life she lost.

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Blanchett is flat-out amazing as Jasmine, a woman of exquisite culture and breeding on the outside, a bottomless well of nervous need inside. At times, buffeted by the rigors of ordinary life, she seems almost catatonic, her big blue eyes searching desperately for escape. We should hate this woman, but we pity her. At one point, she meets an attractive diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard) who offers her the chance to rejoin the ruling class. For her own sanity, we start to wish that would happen, even as we recognize her capacity for self-sabotage.

This is one of those Allen films like “Midnight in Paris” where everything just clicks, from his confident staging and seamless uses of flashbacks to his impeccable casting. Hawkins gives her sister character a kind of brassy nobility, and Andrew “Dice” Clay is effective as her ex-husband, who is a voice of conscience in the film. That’s right: Andrew “Dice” Clay, voice of conscience.

The resemblance to “A Streetcar Named Desire” is intentional, but also inessential, as “Blue Jasmine” charts its own course through post-meltdown America, and how the rich really are so different than you and me. Or, at least, you can hide the differences with enough money.

“The Spectacular Now”: Two American kids doing the best they can

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“The Spectacular Now” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. 1:35, PG-13, three and a half stars out of four.

About once a year, if we’re lucky, we get a great teen movie, one that eloquently, honestly tells adolescence like it is. Last year it was “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and this year it’s James Ponsoldt’s wonderful and soulful “The Spectacular Now.”

The movie is a love story between small-town seniors Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley), and the first thing the film gets right is to make them complete, complex human beings before each other even enters the picture. Sutter is a good-time underachiever, strutting down the halls with a kind word for everyone and a flash in his back pocket. He’s like a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, someone who lives to enjoy life and solve other people’s problems so he doesn’t have to face his own, especially an absent dad.

Aimee is the opposite — a brilliant student, naive in some ways but wiser than her peers in others, she’s going places, but it’s not clear whether she’ll enjoy herself when she gets there. Their meet-cute comes when Sutter passes out on her lawn. He’s medicating his sorrows after a bad break-up with the popular Cassidy (Brie Larson), and could use the company of a nice, non-threatening girl like Aimee. Their relationship moves slowly, cautiously, with Sutter always having one eye on Cassidy at parties, Aimee too thrilled at having his other eye to complain. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber wrote “(500) Days of Summer” for Madison native Marc Webb, so they know how to chart the arc of a love affair, how it will stall and then lurch forward, and how both people bring the sum of their experiences and fears with them.

When Sutter and Aimee finally, fully commit, it’s like a heady rush of adrenaline has entered the movie’s bloodstream — not movie-love magic, but some kind of heightened reality. That feeling is perfectly encapsulated in a scene where, at window overlooking the football field, the pair discuss their future together, and the golden reflection in the glass looks like some kind of shimmering halo behind them. Damn.

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Of course, the golden glow can’t last, and the film takes a darker turn in the last half hour, and Sutter starts wrestling with his feelings of worthlessness, that he’s destined to become his deadbeat dad (Kyle Chandler), the friendliest drunk in the bar. Interesting that Ponsoldt’s last feature, “Smashed,” also featured a likable protagonist coming to terms with her boozing, although that film dealt more with the hard road of sobriety. If “(500) Days” was perhaps a bit too clever (and there’s a touch of that in the college admissions letter Sutter is writing that frames the movie), Ponsoldt scuffs it up with the messiness uncertainty of real life.

Teller and Woodley have vaguely familiar faces (he was the best friend in the “Footloose” remake, she was the oldest daughter in “The Descendants”), and both bring such truth and complexity to their roles. You just care for them, instinctively even as you recognize their capacity to wound each other.

The film has been compared to teen movies of the ’80s, especially “Say Anything,” and I suppose there’s something of the John Cusack-Ione Skye dynamic at work here. But I think the fact that these lovers are teenagers is a bit of a distraction. This is a relationship every bit as exhilarating and thorny as any adult relationship we’ll see on a movie screen, and the movie deals with it earnestly and respectfully.

That’s not nostalgia for an earlier era of filmmaking — that’s just great contemporary filmmaking, spectacular and now.

“Prince Avalanche” leads landslide of new films in UW Cinematheque fall season

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Without skipping a week from its summer-long tribute to Roger Ebert (which concludes with Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night” at 7 p.m. Thursday and Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” at 7 p.m. Friday), the UW Cinematheque’s free on-campus film series jumps right into its fall series next week.

The fall schedule begins with the much-anticipated Madison premiere of “Prince Avalanche” at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 at 4070 Vilas Hall. The film, a comedy-drama featuring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two lonely men painting the yellow stripes on a remote stretch of highway, has two indirect connections to the Wisconsin Film Festival. Director David Gordon Green brought his first film, “George Washington,” to the festival in 2001, and the 2013 festival featured “Either Way,” the Icelandic comedy that “Prince” is based on.

On Saturday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m., Cinematheque will begin a fantastic series of crime films by French director Jean-Pierre Melville, beginning with “Bob Le Flambeur,” which was remade into “The Good Thief” with Nick Nolte about a decade ago. The Melville series will also include his masterful French resistance drama “Army of Shadows” (Sept. 14) and stylish heist film “Le Cercle Rouge” (Sept. 21).

I’ll be digging much deeper into the schedule as the season gets underway, but here’s a taste of what’s in store. Remember that all films are free and screen at 4070 Vilas Hall unless otherwise noted. Visit cinema.wisc.edu for more information.

Madison premieres: In addition to “Prince Avalanche,” Cinematheque will host the Madison premiere of Johnnie To’s new gangster drama “Drug War” (just named “Essential Cinema” by The Dissolve.com) on Sept. 27, Joe Swanberg’s acclaimed comedy “Drinking Buddies” on Oct. 3, and filmmaker Jill Soloway will be in person to present her debut feature “Afternoon Delight” on Nov. 14.

International horror: The full range of global chills and thrills will be represented in the weeks leading up to Halloween, from the J-horror of “Kwaidan” (Oct. 4) to the creepy French horror film “Eyes Without a Face” (Oct. 11) to the Italian giallo of Dario Fulci’s “The Beyond” (Oct. 25).

Werner Herzog tribute: The Cinematheque presents four films by the legendary Herzog, including “Stroszek” (Oct. 19), which was filmed in Wisconsin, and “Encounters at the End of the World” (Oct. 26), a documentary filmed in Antarctica.

Cinemascope at 60: “The Sunday Cinematheque at the Chazen” series has been a huge hit, and this salute to anamorphic widescreen classics looks to continue that trend, with 13 films ranging from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” (Sept. 8) to Max Ophuls’ sublime “Lola Montes” (Oct. 13) to Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” (Nov. 24.)

Marquee Mondays: The Cinematheque takes over the Marquee Theater at Union South one Monday a month to present less critically acclaimed but undeniably entertaining  films, including the nutty “An American Hippie in Israel” (Oct. 21) and the Hammer Films heist thriller “Cash on Demand” (Dec. 10).

“The Act of Killing”: Vicious murderers are ready for their close-up

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“The Act of Killing” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:56, three and a half stars out of four. I’ll be doing a post-show discussion in Sundance’s Overflow Bar following the 6:50 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27 screening.

Most documentaries about brutal regimes tell their story from the perspective of the victims, their tales of tragedy finally surfacing to the light decades later after the regime has been toppled. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer didn’t have that luxury while making his film about the coup in Indonesia in 1966, when over a million leftists, college students, union workers and others were murdered by government-sanctioned thugs. That regime is still in power, those thugs are still strutting around free. For victims or their families to speak out now would be a death sentence.

So Oppenheimer turns his cameras on the perpetrators in “The Act of Killing,” and the result is one of the strangest and most haunting documentaries I’ve ever seen. The killers, now grandfatherly types in their 50s and 60s, reminisce fondly about their youth spent torturing and murdering innocents, the violence often inspired by what they saw in American movies. Most don’t feel any remorse, because the official record in Indonesia is that they were heroes, stamping out a Communist threat to the nation. And everyone is too scared to say otherwise. “The winner decides what is ‘war crimes’,” one killer says. “And I’m the winner.”

Drawing off that love of movies, Oppenheimer invites the killers to recreate their crimes for the camera in any manner they wish, using sets, costumes, even stage blood. The “re-enactments” are positively surreal, as we the men dress up as movie gangsters in a noir film, or dance under a waterfall in a bizarre music video, the ghosts of the murdered coming forward to thank the killers and present them with medals. It’s so ridiculous that it’s almost laughable, but the laughs stick in your throat.

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It’s madness. By turning murder into performance, “The Act of Killing” dramatizes the perverted hearts of these men, the twisted mental leaps they needed to feel okay, and even proud, of what they’ve done. It’s a collective madness that infects the entire country — at one point, one of the men likens his country to a nation of “soap opera stars,” all playing the part of patriotic, happy citizens, none of them believing it.

The one possible exception is Anwar Congo, a dapper man in mustard-yellow suits who has admitted to have killed hundreds of people. He cautiously reveals that his dreams are haunted by the ghosts of the people he strangled, and as he performs in his films, with extras playing the part of screaming women and children, it starts to cut too close to home. If there is a glimmer of hope in “The Act of Killing,” it is in Congo’s slowly growing realization of the horror of what he’s done.

His unease isn’t enough, not nearly enough, to atone for the suffering he caused. But as he revisits a rooftop where he killed his victims, and is suddenly seized by a bout of uncontrollable retching, we’re grateful for this tiny measure of justice. This is an unforgettable film.

Blu-ray review: “The Devil’s Backbone: The Criterion Collection”

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The new Criterion Collection edition of Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone” is one of my favorite Blu-ray releases in a while, because it does exactly what you want a “special edition” to do. It takes a great film and opens it up for the viewer, letting you delve into its influences and its secrets. There’s a BD-ROM “Director’s Notebook” feature that allows the viewer to “page” through Del Toro’s notebook of sketches and outlines for the film, and that spirit, clearly overseen by an enthusiastic Del Toro himself, carries through to the entire project.

The film is one of Del Toro’s best, worlds away from the sturm and drang of this summer’s “Pacific Rim,” but just as concerned with the elemental struggle of good and evil. This time, though, the setting is a remote orphanage in 1938, during the Spanish Civil War. An unexploded bomb is embedded in the courtyard, but the children and caretakers have learned to ignore it and go about their business. A new boy, Carlos, comes to the orphanage, and starts peeling back the orphanage’s secrets, which include a sadistic caretaker and a ghostly boy, his head cracked like that of a porcelain doll, wandering at night.

“The Devil’s Backbone” is a ghost story, full of shudders and shocks. It’s also a horror film, but the horror doesn’t necessarily overlap with the supernatural elements. Instead, the horror comes in the cruelty committed by one person onto another (personified by the psychopathic, handsome caretaker), and the fear, especially from a child’s perspective, of living in a country being ripped apart by violence. There is a deep sadness underlying “Devil’s Backbone” — the loss of innocence, the folly of resistance, the pain of regret, the need for compassion. Del Toro says in one of the Blu-ray extras that the film is meant to “rhyme” thematically with his more famous “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which also mixed unearthly wonder with earthly cruelty.

The DVD includes a chatty and thoughtful commentary track from Del Toro, of course, but you can also enable a feature that allows you to see thumbnail sketches Del Toro drew of particiular shots and images while the film is playing. The supplements include extensive interviews with Del Toro and other cast and crew, as well as a very interesting interview with a Spanish Civil War historian that puts the action of “Backbone” into historical context.

I’m glad Del Toro gets the clearance to make big, fun movies like “Pacific Rim,” but I hope he always ping-pongs between blockbusters and more personal projects like “The Devil’s Backbone.” I can’t imagine another filmmaker making a movie like this, and the Criterion edition shows how that passion infused every frame of the film.

What Elmore Leonard taught us about getting old

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The Internet is full of great writing about the passing of Elmore Leonard — not as great as he would have written of course, but those who salute him acknowledge that up front. A career of over 40 books in nearly 60 years, some of which sparked wonderful movies and television shows (and some didn’t). There’s lots to salute.

So this is one small corner of Leonard’s genius, but what struck me as different about his characters than about those of most crime novelists — most novelists, actually — is their capacity to grow and change, and not necessarily in a good way. Leonard would revisit characters from previous books, and he wrote a couple of later novels that could be considered proper sequels, such as “Be Cool” and “Road Dogs.” But what I found fascinating is when a character would change on us from book to book, and what that said about the way Leonard saw his fellow man.

So here’s three things Elmore Leonard taught us through his books about getting old:

1. People change. In 1978, Leonard wrote a book called “The Switch,” in which two ex-cons, Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara, kidnap the wife of a Detroit auto magnate. Only the husband is a bastard who doesn’t want to pay, and the kidnappers end up colluding with the housewife to rip the guy off for millions. Robbie and Gara are classic antiheroes.

In 1992, Leonard brought them back for “Rum Punch,” which became the basis for Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” with Samuel L. Jackson as Ordell and Robert De Niro as Louis. Only now, they’ve changed. Ordell used his loot to build a drug empire, and is a criminal as ruthless as they come. Meanwhile, Louis frittered his share away, knocked around, and never made anything of himself. Success made Ordell hard, failure made Louis soft

They were the heroes of one Elmore Leonard novel, and now they’re the villains  of another. I can’t think of another writer who pulled that off. I still remember the shock of that, getting the chance to revisit a pair of fondly-remembered characters (“Ordell and Louis are back!” read the back cover blurb) only to have seen them changed, for the worse.  What happened to them says a lot, I think, about how Leonard viewed people, that they don’t stay the same, but they get changed by circumstances, especially as they get older and life takes them down different paths.

2. Be careful what you wish for. Leonard wrote two books that featured Miami bookmaker Harry Amo, 1993’s “Pronto” and 1995’s “Riding the Rap.” It’s “Pronto” that I remember best, especially Amo, who is near retirement age, planning to get out of the bookmaking game and retire to a villa in Italy. It’s what he’s dreamed about all his life, since he was a soldier there in World War II. Finally, he makes it to his dream retirement villa — and he hates it. The place is drafty, it’s lonely, he misses everything about his old, busy life in Miami.

You could see Harry’s story as a sly wink at the audience (Leonard was about the same age as Harry at the time) about the prospects of Leonard retiring himself. Retirement, resting, wasn’t for guys like him and Harry. It was the act of doing, of living your life, that was the real reward for life itself, the thing that really gave pleasure, not some mythical castle in the sky that, in the end, turned out to be dull and drafty.

3. Do what you love, right now, and keep doing it until further notice. And that’s the final lesson, taken of course from Leonard’s life itself. He started writing in his 20s, and he was good. Then he kept writing and he got even better. Then he got great. Then he got famous, but he never chased fame, and never let that distract him from being great. And then he never stopped being great until his time was up.

Leonard’s fiction was full of guys hungry for one big score, one big payday that would change their lives, make them happy. Usually they messed it up, sometimes they died. Sometimes, in the case of Harry or Louis, they got what they wanted and it didn’t change anything. Sometimes it made things worse. Leonard saw it all with an amused eye, refusing to judge, as he merrily kept on doing the thing that he loved to do, the thing that he was best at, for 60 years.

Now that’s a big payday. Rest in peace, Dutch.

Instant Gratification: “Samsara” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant

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Pick of the week: “Samsara: My full review is here. This arresting documentary is essentially a wordless flow of arresting images gathered from around the world, from sand dunes shifting in the wind to cityscapes full of bustling lights. The effect is a hypnotic and unsettling journey into life as it is lived around the world, from the most beautiful natural spots to the poorest urban backwaters.

Action movie of the week: “The Rundown: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first real outing as an action hero was this surprisingly fun and canny 2003 film, playing a bounty hunter rescuing a rich boy (Seann William Scott) from the Amazon jungle. Features Christopher Walken in Full Walken Mode.

Comedy of the week: “Greenberg“: My full review is here. Generation X is not aging well in Noah Baumbach’s dry and sharp comedy about a middle-aged misanthrope (Ben Stiller) who complicates life for an aimless Angeleno (Greta Gerwig). Gerwig and Baumbach would go on to collaborate in the much more sunny “Frances Ha.”

Drama of the week: “Agora“: My full review is here. Rachel Weisz plays a 5th-century Greek mathematician who finds science under attack from a growing religious sect in this parable about fundamentalism. It’s better in its broad strokes than its characters, who are often mouthpieces for the viewpoints they represent.

Thriller of the week: “Albino Alligator“: Kevin Spacey’s directorial debut was a 1996 crime drama about three criminals who take the denizens of a dive bar hostage after their heist goes wrong. The story’s roots in the theater are obvious, but Spacey fills the film with tension and good actors, including Faye Dunaway, Joe Mantegna and Matt Dillon.

I’m doing a post-show discussion after “The Act of Killing” on Aug. 27. Yeah, that should be fun.

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I’m grateful to Sundance Cinemas for letting me host special post-show discussions after some of their Screening Room titles. It’s a chance for me and interested audiences to decamp to the Overflow Bar after the show to talk about what we just saw, whether it was the elliptical storytelling of “Upstream Color” or the social issues of “Any Day Now.”

Or, as in the case of the next Screening Room talk, genocide and the banality of evil. Yeah, that should be a laugh riot. We ought to order a pitcher.

(Caveat: I hadn’t actually seen the documentary “The Act of Killing” when I chose it as one of the movies I wanted to do a discussion about, having heard it was a thought-provoking film. That was correct.)

It also is one tough sit, a film that transfixes the viewer and haunts for days after. The documentary looks at men who were involved in the killing of hundreds of innocent Indonesians during the 1965 coup in that country, and who have walked around unpunished. The film lets them re-enact some of their crimes, which they do with the enthusiasm of kids imitating their favorite movie heroes (which is essentially what they were).

So, to forewarn you, it is not an easy movie to watch, but unquestionably one worth seeing, and one that should provoke a great discussion afterwards. I definitely urge you to come out and join me. “The Act of Killing” opens Friday, and my talk will take place after the early evening show next Tuesday, Aug. 27. I’ll post more details on the blog when I get them.

The next one after that will be much lighter, Sarah Polley’s wonderful documentary about her family history, “Stories We Tell,” on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

What’s playing in Madison theaters, Aug. 16 to 22, 2013

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All week

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance) — Daniels’ last film was “The Paperboy,” the worst film of 2012 by a country mile, and seeing him do a name-above-the-title drama about a Presidential butler (Forest Whitaker) working for seven presidential exercises in stunt casting (John Cusack as Nixon?) looked like he was going for a two-fer. But this is getting good reviews!

Love is All You Need” (Sundance) — My full review is here. After dark dramas like “Things We Lost in the Fire” and “Brothers,” Danish director Susannah Bier lightens her mood considerably with this sweetly sad tale of a cancer survivor (Trine Lyrholm) and a widower (Pierce Brosnan) finding love of their own at their children’s wedding.

Paranoia” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — My full review is here. Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman are slumming it in this copycat corporate thriller about rival billiionaires trying to destroy each other. While the two old pros are kind of fun, each gets about 20 minutes of screen time, the rest devoted to Liam Hemsworth removing his shirt so many times that it even made Matthew McConaughey uncomfortable.

Jobs” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance) — Amazingly, it sounds like the problem with this biopic about Steve Jobs isn’t the casting of Ashton Kutcher in the title role. It’s that the whole film is the kind of flabby, adoring hagiography that Jobs himself probably would have sent back to the factory.

Kick-Ass 2” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — Confession: I loathed the original “Kick-Ass,” a mean-spirited, unfunny and unexciting riff on the superhero genre. Subtract Nicolas Cage and add Jim Carrey, and you have not given me a reason to see the sequel.

“Once Upon a Time in Mumbai — Dobarra!” (Star Cinema) — No question that films from India have a hot following in the United States — Star is playing both the box office smash “Chennai Express” and this sequel to a 2010 gangster epic.

Friday

Kwik Stop” (7 p.m.,, Union South Marquee Theater, 1208 W. Dayton St.) — My interview with Michael Gilio is here. This 2001 indie drama, poignant and hard to pin down, might have vanished without a trace if Roger Ebert hadn’t tirelessly championed it. As part of the UW-Cinematheque’s Ebert tribute, writer-director-star Michael Gilio will screen the film and talk about Ebert’s impact on it. FREE!

Monday

WALL-E” (9 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace) — Is this the last great Pixar film? Now that the beloved animation house has caught sequelitis, it’s good to see this sci-fi romance, which starts with a masterful, nearly dialogue-free half-hour about the last robot on Earth and evolves into a surprisingly pointed satire of consumer culture. FREE!

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Oblivion” (10 p.m., Star Cinema) — Tom Cruise plays the last man on Earth, cleaning up — hey, this is “WALL-E” too! Or another recent sci-fi film, which I won’t give away. Anyway, it’s gorgeous on the big screen, and admission is only $3, with proceeds going to autism research.

Tuesday

Oblivion” (10 p.m. Star Cinema) — See Monday listing.

Wednesday

Oblivion” (10 p.m. Star Cinema) — See Monday listing.

Thursday

Smiles of a Summer Night” (7 p.m. 4070 Vilas Hall) — Ingmar Bergman does the unthinkable — and makes a comedy. Lovers criss-cross at a country estate in a romantic farce that Roger Ebert was a big fan of. FREE!

“Paranoia”: I have the strangest feeling someone is watching a bad movie

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“Paranoia” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, and Star Cinema. PG-13, 1:42, one and a half stars out of four.

“Good artists copy,” someone in “Paranoia” quotes Pablo Picasso as saying. “Great artists steal.” By that measure, “Paranoia” must be a great movie.

Robert Luketic’s limp adaptation of the bestselling novel by Joseph Finder cribs shamelessly from every corporate-techno-thriller of the last 20 years, from “The Firm” to “Duplicity.” It’s like one of those cheap knockoff phones you might buy on a streetcorner in Manhattan — the “IPhoen 5” of thrillers.

Liam Hemsworth is deeply miscast as Adam Cassidy, a hotshot tech wizard who just happens to look like an Olympic diver. (Seriously, who knew tech nerds took their shirts off this much?) A low-level striver in the Wyatt Corporation, run by the arrogant Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman), Adam dreams of making it to a corner office. Instead, Wyatt fires him after a lousy pitch meeting, and then threatens to arrest him when Adam uses the company credit card to finance a night on the town for him and his friends.

But Wyatt has another offer. He wants Adam to become a corporate spy at Eikon, another tech company run by his rival and mentor, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). If Adam can get details on the revolutionary new smartphone that Eikon has in the works, Wyatt will forgive the debt and throw a million dollars in to boot.

So Andrew goes to work for Goddard, who seems much more avuncular and paternal than the devious Wyatt, and the central tension of the film is supposed to be watching Adam decide which billionaire he’ll screw over for the sake of the other. This kind of movie needs zippy, smart pacing and style to get past the plot inconsistencies, but “Paranoia” moves at a leaden march, using ominous music and needless visual trickery (jump cuts and super slo-mo) to try and convince the audience that what they’re watching is cool and suspenseful. Luketic used the same tricks in his last film “21” (which has essentially the same plot, of a handsome young hero trying to outsmart two character actors), it had a more appealing lead actor in Jim Sturgess, and a more interesting environment in Vegas.

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The only time “Paranoia” comes to life is when Ford or Oldman are on screen, but each gets only about 20 minutes of screentime, despite their prominence on the movie poster. Oldman, slipping into his native British accent for the first time in a while, plays Wyatt as a Cockney tough who somehow made it to the penthouse suite. And Ford, his head shaved, seems to revel in playing a guy who might be nastier than the father figure he appears to be.

When those two clash, finally, “Paranoia” is kinda fun. But they’re largely backgrounded in favor of Hemsworth, who is neither convincing as a tech guy nor, more crucially, as an ambitious guy from the sticks who will do anything to get ahead. Instead, he’s a bland hunk who ambles from scene to scene, furrowing his brow or flashing a confident grin when the scene calls for it,, without any sense that there’s anything going on behind that handsome mug. You kind of want Oldman or Ford to crush him like a bug in the first act and get together themselves for a little “Air Force One” reunion (“Get off my skyscraper!”)