Hunter Killer

⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for violence and profanity.

 

So many military action movie cliches are crammed into Gerard Butler’s Navy thriller “Hunter Killer” that it qualifies as the “Scary Movie” of submarine movies. It lurks just this side of parody. If you aren’t taking the film seriously, it’s is a hoot, even if that’s not exactly what the filmmakers were going for.

Based on the novel “Firing Point” by George Wallace and Don Keith and directed by Donovan Marsh (whose last movie, “Avenged,” was five years ago), the plot concerns an underwater dogfight in the Barents Sea that’s keeping World War III at bay. When the USS Tampa Bay goes down with 110 sailors, the target of a Russian torpedo, Capt. Joe Glass (Butler) is yanked out of the Scottish highlands, where he’s bow hunting moose (naturally). He’s plopped at the helm of a “hunter killer” sub, the USS Arkansas, to figure out just what is going on in Kola Bay.

Everyone’s going rogue, including the Russian defense minister Durov (Michael Gor), who usurps the handsome but very dumb Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko), not to mention the U.S. Department of Defense, headed up by Rear Adm. Fisk (Common). They cook up a scheme for a special forces unit to extract Zakarin and get him on the sub.

Despite all the plot contortions, this is one of Butler’s more sedate performances of late. But Gary Oldman, making an appearance as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is positively apoplectic. That bouncing between serious and silly leaves us thinking “Hunter Killer” needs its sonar calibrated.

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Services

 

The Price of Everything

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: Not rated.

Theater: St. Anthony Main.

 

“There are a lot of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” an art collector remarks in Nathaniel Kahn’s documentary. The words come from “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde, where they supply the definition of a cynic. But while this colorful and inquisitive cinematic essay on the state of the art world is occasionally skeptical and consistently thoughtful, cynicism isn’t on its agenda.

Rather than lament the pervasive influence of money on contemporary art, the film examines the relationship between commerce and aesthetics from different angles. “You can’t have a golden age without gold,” someone says. The sale and resale of work by living and recently dead artists is a multibillion-dollar market, which bothers some people more than others.

An affable presence just outside of camera range (and director of “My Architect,” about his father, Louis Kahn), the filmmaker chats with curators and critics, painters and auction-house executives — an impressive cross-section of players with differing stakes in the game. Because all of them do have a stake, none is interested in outright derision or dismissal. There may be arguments over the quality of the bathwater, but everyone agrees that the baby needs protection.

If the artists are the heroes of this story, the auctioneers, collectors and dealers aren’t exactly the villains. Their acquisitiveness might be an expression of love. And they are critics and philosophers of a kind, puzzling over old and stubborn questions. What makes a work of art great? Where does its value come from? Why do we care — as a species and a civilization — about art? According to a figure cited by the filmmakers, those are the $56 billion questions. But even at a fraction of that price, they would be difficult to answer.

A.O. Scott, New York Times

What They Had

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: R for profanity and brief sex.

Theater: Edina.

 

The title of writer/director Elizabeth Chomko’s feature debut refers to a couple’s shared history as Ruth (Blythe Danner) and Burt (Robert Forster) confront Ruth’s Alzheimer’s. But the movie also is about Burt’s difficult relationship with the couple’s children, Bridget (Hilary Swank) and Nicky (Michael Shannon).

An emotional tug-of-war begins when Ruth, in a state of confusion, wanders away from her Chicago apartment. Although she is found safe, a doctor explains that something bad might have happened to her. Nicky has had enough; he wants his mother moved to a center where she can be taken care of safely. Bridget agrees with him but is reluctant to say so.

Her reluctance is based on her father. Burt trusts utterly in tradition and authority and has an inflexible opinion about everything. He’s as sure that his wife shouldn’t live in a memory-care facility as he is about everything else. Adding fuel to the debate: He chastises both of his kids, Nick because he hasn’t settled down and Bridget because she has settled down but with a husband Burt doesn’t like.

The film raises some major issues that many baby boomers are facing. But after doing so, it detours into a lightweight ending that, while intended to generate smiles, is likely to earn groans instead. The most interesting part of the movie turns out to be the relationship between cocksure Nicky and the wavering Bridget, both of whom are embodied with extraordinary conviction.

Mark Jenkins, Washington Post