★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS
Rated: PG for thematic elements and some perilous action.
In this sports biopic, Gerard Butler plays Frosty Hesson, gruff-but-tender mentor to surf prodigy Jay Moriarty (handsome newcomer Jonny Weston). The story is rather flimsy. Hesson, no model father to his own kids, blossoms as a stand-in dad and guru for the Santa Cruz longboard star, coaching him from age 10 to 22 as the boy masters ever-gnarlier waves and personal challenges. The real drama in this film occurred offscreen when the original director, "L.A. Confidential's" Curtis Hanson, fell ill and was replaced by Michael Apted of "The World Is Not Enough." Both men share credit on a film that feels understandably generic. The surfing scenes, with waves battering the Northern California coast, are breathtaking, while the side issues of stressed-out working-class parents, teen love troubles and Nicholas Sparks-style life lessons, are ho-hum. Nothing special; decent enough considering the circumstances.
SIMON AND THE OAKS
★★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS
Unrated: war themes and sensuality. In subtitled Swedish and German. Theater: Uptown.
Talented acting family, those Skarsgaards. Bill, brother of Alex and son of Stellan, impresses as the star of this sweeping World War II-era drama based on Marianne Fredriksson's Swedish bestseller. Simon Larsson is a bright, dreamy, solitary boy who feels out of place on his kind foster parents' hardscrabble farm in the countryside outside Gothenburg. More interested in books and symphonies than log-splitting, he can't wait to leave for the expensive private school his family can barely afford. There, he comes to the aid of Isak, a student who's being bullied by anti-Semitic classmates, forming an instant friendship. Isak and his family are urban, well-to-do and refined refugees from Berlin, yet with them Simon finds a second family that embraces his own in friendship and business partnership. The film follows Simon and Isak through their teenage years into their first romances, professional lives and shared destiny in Sweden's postwar economic boom. Director Lisa Ohlin's lush, handsomely crafted middlebrow epic was nominated for 13 Swedish Oscars.
KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
★★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS
Unrated: sex and drug use. In English and subtitled Danish. Theater: Lagoon.
We meet Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a young Danish documentarian living in millennial New York City, as he works the phone, trying to arrange an anonymous gay hookup. He meets, and falls hard for, Paul (Zachary Booth), a publishing junior executive who claims to have a girlfriend and tells Erik not to get his hopes up. Their intense sexual bond leads to dating and something like romance. Paul's girlfriend drops out of the picture and the men become a comfortably affluent, sophisticated couple for a decade. Their relationship is still a love triangle, however, with Paul's clandestine addiction to crack rivaling his bond to self-doubting Erik. As their home life becomes a chain of unanswered calls home and unexplained absences, both men must decide whether their relationship is worth fighting for. This intimate semi-autobiographical drama from director Ira Sachs ("Forty Shades of Blue") is commendably frank about the challenges facing his characters. The cast, uniformly excellent, draws us into a vibrant, energetic Manhattan where commitments are forged and broken through sheer chance and those seeking permanence must continually resist temptation and ennui.