⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: War violence, mature themes.
Theater: Brooklyn Center.
The basic axiom of editing is “kill your darlings.” In adapting his acclaimed magical-historical epic “Midnight’s Children” from a Booker Prize-winning bestseller to a feature film, Salman Rushdie has ignored that basic editing advice, delivering a film bloated by excess material.
The picaresque allegory follows the destinies of two Indian boys born at the stroke of midnight, Aug. 15, 1947, at the instant Britain granted their nation independence. “Midnight’s Children” follows the boys, and India (and Pakistan, and Bangladesh), through the rest of the past century. But before the story proper begins, there’s a rambling, entirely superfluous half-hour curtain-raiser about the children’s grandparents and parents.
As newborns, Shiva (played by the actor Siddharth), the princeling of a commercially important family, and Saleem (Satya Bhabha), the son of a poor single mother, are switched by a delivery-room nurse in a Bombay hospital. Gifted with a mystical nose, Saleem can telepathically summon all of India’s other Midnight children, who possess diverse occult powers of their own. The protagonists tumble through modern India’s wars, class strife and political upheavals as they reach adulthood. The overstuffed narrative makes for an incoherent 2½ hours. “Midnight’s Children” isn’t brimming with incident, it’s drowning in it.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language and some teen drinking.
It’s a rare kids’ movie that’s stolen by the grownups, but that’s the case with “The Kings of Summer.” The ragged debut film for TV director Jordan Vogt-Roberts follows three high school boys who flee their lame parents and spend the warm months in a deep-woods house they build themselves. Introverted Joe (Nick Robinson) has had it up to here with his overbearing single dad (Nick Offerman, expanding on his blustering “Parks and Recreation” persona).
Handsome Patrick (Gabriel Basso) can’t take milk from the fridge without his nicey-nice, chatterbox parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) yammering about it. Biaggio (Moises Arias), the class weirdo, tags along for reasons undisclosed. The boys have cute adventures hunting their own food. Vogt-Roberts makes the scenery look great, but doesn't call the plays that could make the movie score. Scenes don’t develop, characters don’t evolve except in indie-movie-cute ways. Biaggio, the token wild man, detracts too much attention from the main characters with unmotivated random acts of weirdness.
It’s the adult cast members who carry the movie away. In addition to the droll understated Offerman and endlessly nattering team of Mullally and Jackson, Mary Lynn Rajskub is a standout as the deadpan police chief searching for the runaway trio.
WISH YOU WERE HERE
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language, some drug content, brief sexuality and violence. • Theater: Lagoon.
The Australian thriller “Wish You Were Here” is hypnotically watchable but badly flawed by a shrug of an ending.
First-time director Kieran Darcy-Smith employs a nonlinear (but crystal-clear) editing structure to keep us on edge as he reveals dark secrets about a Cambodian vacation gone hellishly wrong.
The narrative proceeds in fragments, like memories after a nightmare-binge blackout. Something horrific happened to sisters Steph and Alice (Teresa Palmer and Felicity Price) and their partners, Jeremy and Dave (Antony Starr and Joel Edgerton).
Exactly what, and to what degree each is responsible, we must work to discover. The film cuts fluidly between times and locations, never engaging in shallow trickery, but subverting our expectations at every turn. The performances are heartfelt as characters regret the aftermath of impulsive decisions on one ecstasy-fueled party night.
There’s a visceral realism to the acting. Edgerton and Price are riveting as the Australian husband and wife struggling to maintain the stable lives they had before their spectacular fall from grace. The tension grabs you by the hair and never lets up.
Sadly, the final moments fail to provide the cathartic release the setup promises.
VIOLET & DAISY
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: Not rated, but has scenes of bloody gun violence. • Theater: Regal Eagan.
This quirky indie has a terrific opening, as two young women dressed as nuns deliver boxes of Righteous Pizza before opening fire on an apartment full of unsuspecting lowlife targets. All while “Angel of the Morning” plays on the soundtrack.
Despite a solid effort by Alexis Bledel (Violet) and Saoirse Ronan (Daisy) as teenage assassins, it’s all a bit downhill from there, as the film bounces bewilderingly between genres: crime, black comedy, kinky-teen manga, fantasy, David Lynchian art-house and tearjerker.
Writer/director Geoffrey Fletcher (who wrote the screenplay for “Precious,” which I loved) gets a nuanced, low-key performance from James Gandolfini as a rub-out target, but it’s a thankless role shot entirely in a “Blue Velvet”-style apartment.
Our deadpan young antiheroes are as likable as freelance killers are likely to get. Ronan in particular, with her icy sad eyes and naive-saint mien, casts a spell.
The script might have pushed harder, and included more incident and less of the rote psychologizing that bogs things down in the final reel.
GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: Not rated.
Theater: Trylon Microcinema, 7 & 9 p.m. Mon.-Tue., 7 p.m. Wed., 3258 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-424-5468 or take-up.org.)
Fans of ’90s alt-soul star Jeff Buckley already know the sad story line told in this biopic. The folk-star absentee father (Tim Buckley) dies young, and so does the son, who — just before his death — becomes an even more revered singer than his dad. Brooding “Gossip Girl” hunk Penn Badgley delivers a pivotal performance as the younger Buckley, coming off with just enough pretentiousness and attitude.
The film’s barely-there plot centers around a 1991 tribute concert to Tim in New York where Jeff reluctantly performed (inadvertently sparking his own career as a result). You feel the music here better than in many similar biopics, with Tim’s recordings used intermittently alongside flashbacks that star Ben Rosenfield as the shadowy ’60s folkie, who turned more experimental and jazzy over the course of nine albums.
Badgley also pulls off a convincing if not fully formed imitation of Jeff’s warbling, falsetto-enlightened style of singing — which, three years prior to his one and only album, “Grace,” truly was still in its formative stage.
This quiet little movie offers a surprisingly powerful depiction of what was behind that mysterious voice.