No Escape
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: Rated R for strong violence throughout, and for language.

 

If what you’re seeking in the doldrums of August is stomach-churning, eye-watering suspense, “No Escape” delivers just that — but falls short with a tone-deaf story and extremely xenophobic worldview. Clearly, brother filmmaking duo Drew and John Erick Dowdle were not paying attention to the backlash that greeted “The Impossible,” which followed the plight of a rich, white family’s desperate escape from the Thai tsnuami, at the expense of the stories of the Thai people. “No Escape” ups the ante on this family in peril theme — this time with our protagonists caught up in a bloody revolutionary coup, where nameless native people are either being killed in the streets or stalking our hero, Jack (Owen Wilson), in order to kill him in the street. Pierce Brosnan pops up as a mysterious British expat/guardian angel, saving Jack’s family, and offering a quick explainer about the revolution. Obviously, it’s in reaction to the influence of postmodern colonial capitalism, so it actually is Jack’s fault, though Brosnan takes the fall. The result is a fast-paced, tension-filled ride with a desperately ugly outlook.
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

 

Digging For Fire
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for language including some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

“Digging for Fire,” the latest of director Joe Swanberg’s infidelity daydreams, moves with uneffacing assurance. It boasts a blue-chip cast clearly comfortable with improvising on (or bailing out) the script by Swanberg and the film’s star, Jake Johnson.

Housesitting in Malibu for a client, yoga instructor Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her schoolteacher husband, Tim (Johnson), relocate from their west side Atwater Village flat with their 3-year-old for a few weeks. The movie is about their weekend apart. With the boy off to his grandparents’, Lee has plans to spend time with friends, while Tim stays behind to work on the couple’s taxes. Lee ends up walking the beach with a charming, chivalrous stranger (Orlando Bloom) she meets in a restaurant. Tim invites his pals over for a pool party. Sam Rockwell, always a pleasure, shows up as the wild-card guest, who brings a couple of ladies (Anna Kendrick and Brie Larson), some cocaine and an eagerness to help Tim dig up some curious artifacts he finds early on in the hillside near the house. First it’s a rusty old revolver and a human bone. What lies beneath?

“Digging for Fire” uses this treasure hunt as a story hook, as its characters shoot the bull on the subjects of public versus private education, and the frustrations of married life. The semi-improvised banter isn’t bad or good; it’s simply there, and too much of it plays like outtakes for better, sharper versions of the same exchanges. The actors save it, periodically, from itself, simply by setting a natural tone and finding some truth in an extended sketch. But is marriage truly a matter of all compromise or zero compromise, as the characters in “Digging for Fire” take turns arguing? The truth’s in the middle, of course, and the film knows this, and there are all sorts of riches to be found in what lies between the extremes. The film itself lands in a different sort of middle, its diffident relational observations pointing straight to “eh,” followed by: Yes? And then what?
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

 

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG for thematic elements including some violence and sensual images.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

Although some might find it hard to conceptualize “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” as a cartoon, animation turns out to be a nifty way to visualize this collection of world-famous poems about spiritual enlightenment. The interesting experiment by “Lion King’’ director Roger Allers will probably be too Disney-esque for some people’s tastes, but in the end this is soulful work, without a cynical frame. And it was no small accomplishment to adapt a 1923 book that’s virtually devoid of cinematic elements.

The story introduces Almitra, a rebellious girl who hasn’t spoken a word since her father’s death. Her mother (voiced by Salma Hayek) does housework for poet Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson), whose wise, earnest teachings have riled the authorities and led to his comfortable confinement somewhere in the Middle East.

Everyone’s life changes when Mustafa is released and ordered out of the country. The plot is basically an excuse for Mustafa to philosophize, while top-notch animators, all with their own distinctive styles, provide the images.

“The Prophet” is clearly trying to appeal to both children and adults, but it’s hard to imagine a kid enraptured with soliloquies about death and marriage. Whatever the case, the film is likely to attract new readers to the book — and remind longtime fans why they were attracted to the writings in the first place.
David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle