STRANGE MAGIC
⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG for some scary action and images.

 

There are good things in this animated musical fantasy: the photorealistic animation; the name-that-tune pleasures of a mashup-jukebox soundtrack; fine vocal performances from the cast’s actor-singers — including Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming — and a transcendent sequence featuring the 1975 title song by ELO.

And then there’s the rest of the film. “Strange Magic” borrows the notion of woodland fairies having misadventures with a love potion from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the “Glee”-ful musical approach of “Happy Feet,” “Pitch Perfect” and “Moulin Rouge.” It also borrows the lack of characterization and other discomfiting deficiencies from the more notorious works of George Lucas, who generated the story.

The music, the film’s lifeblood, has energy and inventive spirit. Wood, playing a beautiful fairy who swears off love and becomes a master swordsfairy, is a revelation as a singer while Cumming, as a Bog King who wants to eradicate love, proves yet again he is an extraordinarily versatile talent. One wishes the moribund story and dialogue and empty characters enjoyed the same jolt of energy.
Michael Ordona, San Francisco Chronicle

 

SON OF A GUN
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated but includes bloody violence, nudity.
Theater: Mall of America.

 

You’ve never seen Ewan McGregor quite like his sadistic, ruthless character in this passable Australian heist picture: Brendan, an escaped convict who does a job and gets double-crossed. The lead is actually young Aussie hunk Brenton Thwaites (“Maleficent”), playing a kid whom Brendan takes under his protection. The two are hurled into a not-quite-impossible heist. And the kid falling for the Euro-stripper arm candy of a Russian mobster will be the least of their difficulties.

The milieu — coastal-industrial Australia — is engrossing, with its stoner arms dealers and crazed thugs of every age. While Thwaites is OK in a role that mostly demands passivity, it’s McGregor who’s the revelation. Start to finish, tattoos to two-fisted punchouts, we totally buy him as a hard case.
ROGER MOORE, Orlando Sentinel

 

AMERICONS
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated but contains nudity, sex, profanity.
Theater: Arbor Lakes.

 

Take away the high-wattage stars, the staggering budget and the celebratory nature of the thievery, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” would look something like “Americons,” a heavy-handed parable about the high-living and wrongdoing that led to the home-mortgage meltdown.

Beau Martin Williams stars as Jason Kelley, an NFL star reduced to being a nightclub doorman. That’s where Devin (Matt Funke) recognizes him and promises to change his life. In a flash, Jason is in Los Angeles, learning the lingo, memorizing the phrases that lure people into buying, selling or refinancing houses using loans that Jason and his boiler room crew cook up. Director Theo Avgerinos skips through this morality tale quickly, and Williams, who wrote the script, peppers conversations with enough jargon to make “Americons” credible, if not wholly comprehensible.
R.M.

SONG ONE
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, brief language.
Theater: Mall of America.

 

The gooey premise of “Song One” would probably make “Notebook” author Nicholas Sparks proud: A young woman develops feelings for a folk musician who is the idol of her comatose brother. But this quirky film does the unexpected: It pours on the restraint, emphasizing the grit and making the romance as low-key as possible. It’s an anti-romance romance.

In some ways, this approach serves the film well, thanks to Anne Hathaway, who is able to express so much without saying a word. She owns this musically friendly movie, even as others do most of the singing. (Don’t expect any “Les Miserables”-like numbers from her this time around.)

Hathaway is so good you might not notice how underwritten her character is. The same cannot be said for Johnny Flynn, the English musician who plays her love interest. He gets his musical moments right, but doesn’t have the nonverbal chops to match Hathaway. We have little idea what they see in each other.

To be fair, director Kate Barker-Froyland has more than romance on her mind, and she crafts a nuanced ending that feels right. We just wish we could have gotten to know these folks a little better along the way.
DAVID LEWIS, San Francisco Chronicle