(Capsule reviews by Aaron Hillis, Brian Miller, Nick Pinkerton, Ella Taylor and Robert Wilonsky.)
Exit Through the Gift Shop Exit Through the Gift Shop is not just the definitive portrait of street-art counterculture, but also a hilarious expose on the gullibility of the masses who embrace manufactured creative personas. Though it's credited as a Banksy picture--as in the ever-elusive U.K. graffiti ninja--the film began with him as its on-camera subject. Banksy's talking head appears faceless under a dark hood to help explain how the role reversal occurred. The real "director" of most of the footage herein is Thierry Guetta, an eccentric French expat in Los Angeles who began videotaping his cousin--the mosaic artist Invader--on his night bombing missions. From there, Guetta earned the trust of DIY art notables Banksy, Swoon, and Shepard Fairey, who Guetta meets on camera at a Kinko's as Fairey's printing out enlarged copies of his notorious "Andre the Giant Has a Posse" designs.
The irony of creating art with tools from a commercial franchise is not lost on Fairey, who admits that his logos "gain real power from perceived power." Without ruining the late-breaking surprises, the impact of Fairey's quote sharply resonates after Guetta rechristens himself as the artist "Mr. Brainwash," exploiting his connections for his first solo exhibition, an inexplicably successful event aided by an LA Weekly cover story that inspired frothing among gallery patrons. Too clever to dismiss as another recycled-joke on the inanity of modern art, Exit is strangely inspirational. Go on, pick up an aerosol can, paint yourself an empire, and see if we call your bluff. (A.H.)
87 minutes Rated R
The A-Team Joe Carnahan's big-screen adaptation of NBC's 1983 midseason-replacement-turned-three-seasons-running-hit is convoluted, overstuffed, turned up to 11, and yet, somehow, deadly dull--in other words, white noise. Rather than a reinterpretation, it's a soulless, sloppy, smirky rerun that makes those Charlie's Angels movies seem positively nouvelle vague; at least Drew Barrymore and crew weren't just shouting bad impressions over the blasts. Liam Neeson is George Peppard as Hannibal Smith, cigar-chomping frontman of the band of wrongly accused Army Rangers; Bradley Cooper is Dirk Benedict as Templeton "Faceman" Peck, bullets bouncing off his perpetual smug grin; Quinton Jackson is Mr. T as B.A. Baracus, whose mohawk still pities the fool; and District 9's Sharlto Copley is Dwight Schultz as Murdock, the howlin' mad pilot who crashes most everything he touches. To the mix, add in Jessica Biel as the Army captain charged with bringing down the boys (complicated by the fact that Face is her ex); Patrick Wilson as the CIA agent who may or may not be setting up the team (but totally is, duh); frequent video-game voice-over actor Brian Bloom as the icky leader of a Blackwater-style operation that's gone rogue, I tellya, rogue; and Gerald McRaney as the worst best friend in the world. The plot has something to do with counterfeiting plates, but it's just an excuse to blow shit up for two hours. How can something this loud be this boring? (R.W.)
117 minutes Rated PG-13
Cyrus This freakishly engrossing black comedy about excessively mothered men and the women who enable them, stars John C. Reilly as a middle-aged lost soul who can't believe his luck when he takes up with an enigmatic fox (the excellent Marisa Tomei). Until, that is, he runs afoul of her son the emotional terrorist, played by Jonah Hill, who cannily dials down the schoolboy hysteria that has defined his persona in the Judd Apatow oeuvre, into a lethally seditious calm. So begins a slow war of attrition as excruciatingly funny to watch as it is horrifying to be caught up in. Yet nothing is overplayed in a movie that wanders teasingly along the borders between sorrow and laughter. Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, who come loosely associated with the mumblecore movement, Cyrus was made with Hollywood money (Ridley and Tony Scott, neither famous for the experimental method, are executive producers) and big-name stars. It still retains the meandering quality of the Duplass brothers' The Puffy Chair, but also has a satisfying formal coherence. How you read the ending of this wickedly ambiguous, yet strangely tender parsing of modern relationships will depend to a degree on which genre you think the film falls into, but far more on whether you think there's such a thing, in this age of perpetual youth, as a grown-up. (E.T.)
92 minutes Rated R
Despicable Me As the lights were dimming before a preview screening of Despicable Me, the six-year-old who lives in my house leaned over and said, "I hope this is funny--not like Toy Story 3." Now don't misunderstand: He adored that movie. It's just that whenever the subject comes up, the first word he uses to describe the final adventures of Woody and Buzz is "sad." "Scary," too, when further pressed. But "funny"? Not once in a month's time. So, then, to the movie featuring fart guns, shrink rays, and squid shooters! Despicable Me is a silly antidote to Toy Story 3's thoughtful heaviness--a cavalcade of kiddie giggles, titters, and belly laughs with as much heft as helium. It's rather joyful and heartfelt, too--a summertime, air-conditioned Grinch, this is the story of a wannabe evil genius (Gru, voiced by Steve Carell) who learns that buried beneath his heft and hefty Mommy issues is a heart large enough to find room for three orphaned girls. To that, add countless yellow, pill-shaped, one- or two-eyed "minions" who provide comic relief enough to fuel a sure-fire spin-off show on Nickelodeon. Despicable Me is also one of the rare instances in the recent history of 3-D's resurrection as The Savior of Cinema in which the technology accentuates the experience. Though, grown-ups, be warned: I had more fun watching the kid giggle through the screening than I did watching the movie itself. It's no Toy Story 3. (R.W.)
95 minutes Rated PG
Micmacs An exploded grandfather clock of a movie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's intricately antic Micmacs hurls gears, gizmos, and other trash-heap objets d'art at the audience. It's aggressively, whimsically retro, like a heaping second helping of his 1992 black comedy Delicatessen. Instead of the enchanted fairyland of his smash hit Amélie, Jeunet burrows into the Parisian scrap-yard lair of the Micmacs, a band of outcasts without superpowers but ingenious uses for old junk. Movie-quoting video-store clerk Bazil (Dany Boon) joins them after a nasty encounter with a bullet; that, plus his father's prior landmine mishap, has him vowing revenge on two rival arms manufacturers. Quicker than you can say "Yojimbo," the Micmacs spring into action. Magnets, alarm clocks, string, and jars of wasps are the Micmacs' preferred weaponry--the team embodies Jeunet's love of the handmade and the improvised, which he then pits against the cold technology of the munitioners. (Though, in one concession to our times, Jeunet does allow the Micmacs to use YouTube.) Allusions are made to recent European arms deals in the Balkans and Afghanistan, but Micmacs is more fantasia than violent revenge tale. And its pleasing curlicues--like a bouquet of spoons--linger long after the predictable outcome. (B. M.)
105 minutes Rated R
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The Other Guys After obligatory helicopter views of New York's skyline open Adam McKay's The Other Guys, we're introduced to Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson), a duo of unflappable supercops who keep the city exciting, if not safe, with law enforcement by the Michael Bay book. The Other Guys aren't them. This is the fourth feature collaboration between McKay and Will Ferrell, who make baggy improvisational comedies about utter boobs (Anchorman's Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights' Ricky Bobby) like Detectives Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg). Gamble is an emasculated Prius owner transferred from forensic accounting. Loose-cannon Hoitz seems to have been partnered with Gamble as punishment -- he's been the departmental black sheep since a humiliating incident that earned him the nickname "Yankee Clipper." Laying out its premise, The Other Guys is loose and funny. But as it progresses, the leads are given little to do but trade off one-liners while treading the waters of an increasingly choppy plot. Gamble and Hoitz catch the scent of something big during a routine pickup of a Wall Street hustler (Steve Coogan), and, following the clues, The Other Guys turns more hectic than antic. Somebody didn't pack enough comedy for this long trip, and if there were a computer program that automatically generated generic action scenes after you punch in participating actors' names -- and there may well be! -- the product would look like The Other Guys' shoot-'em-ups. (N. P.)
107 minutes Rated PG-13
The Town Directing himself as a verifiable big-movie lead after some time in supporting-actor Triple-A ball, director-star Ben Affleck models a full line of warm-up suits to play Doug MacRay, a blue-collar Boston stickup man, brains of his four-man bank crew. The Town is a character study of a gifted, low-bred ne'er-do-well with dark secrets, redeemed by a clean middle-class cutie (Rebecca Hall) from Will Hunting's co-creator--who has since acquired a taste for big-fireball action, freely indulged. An interclass love triangle between Affleck, gentrifier Hall, and a hoop-earringed Townie (Blake Lively, substituting runny eyeliner for real yearning), is overshadowed by good tough-guy work from Jeremy Renner and Pete Postlethwaite, with FBI agent Jon Hamm presiding over spiffy procedural scenes, trying to find a crack in the Irish omerta. This is a scrupulously location-scouted, aggressively BOSTON movie; space between scenes is filled with what amounts to a complete helicopter tour down the River Charles, interruptions adding to the movie's queerly compartmentalized feel. It's difficult to connect the film's characters to the action figures of a major set piece inside Fenway, or to the car chase ricocheting through the narrow red-brick streets of the North End. Though the film misses on the big emotional gut-punch, it's good enough at least that you wish it was better. (N. P.)
123 minutes Rated R