Movie Reviews: Ninja Assassin, Old Dogs, The Sun | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Movie Reviews: Ninja Assassin, Old Dogs, The Sun 

Also, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The End of Poverty? and more


GO  THE END OF POVERTY? “Colonialism is always part of the expansion of capitalism,” opines Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera in The End of Poverty?, director Philippe Diaz’s devastating, radical critique of the colonialist enterprise as inextricable from the current global economic model. While most state-of-the-world docs are content to map the state of the world and leave it at that, Diaz proposes a historical-analytical framework that posits a direct link between the legacy of colonization and the current unequal distribution of wealth that leaves much of the world’s population in a stunning state of poverty. Drawing on an assembly of academics, politicians and activists, Diaz traces the history of economic exploitation back to 1492 and then shows how the traditional colonial model has been replaced by a far more insidious program of financial dependency, in which debt-laden developing nations are forced to make crippling concessions to their creditors, diverting resources away from their suffering citizenry. But for all his film’s sober analysis, Diaz never loses sight of the human cost of global capitalism, traveling to the favelas of Brazil and the shantytowns of Kenya to air the firsthand testimony of those whose impoverishment allows for the unimaginable privilege of a select few. (Monica 4-plex; Culver Plaza) (Andrew Schenker)

GO  ME AND ORSON WELLES Orson Welles lives on not only in posthumously restored director’s cuts of his movies but as a character in other people’s novels, plays and films — notably Richard Linklater’s deft, affectionate and unexpectedly enjoyable Me and Orson Welles. Adapted from a novel by high school English teacher Robert Kaplow, Linklater’s movie concerns Welles’ legendary 1937 stage production of Julius Caesar — the 22-year-old director’s personal triumph. Linklater views Welles’ achievement from the perspective of a high school student (teenage heartthrob Zac Efron). Dubbed “Junior,” the lad brazens his way into a minor part as Brutus’ lute-strumming page, a week before the play is set to open. “You’re not getting anything except the opportunity to be sprayed by Orson’s spit,” Welles’ assistant (Claire Danes) good-naturedly warns him. Actually, the callow but competent Junior gets away with quite a bit (up to a point) even as he learns something about performing and human nature — or at least about the nature of Orson Welles. So do we, thanks to a rich — bordering on plummy — performance by British actor Christian McKay, who nails Welles’ ironic twinkle and assured, mocking self-importance. For all of its virtues, Me and Orson Welles is not perfect. The thrifty period mise-en-scène is oversaturated with ’30s popular music and the screenplay gives only a perfunctory sense of the era’s Popular Front politics (Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy opened on Broadway one week before). But, percolating with backstage banter and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, it is a spirited, confident and even edifying piece of work. (The Grove; The Landmark)

THE MISSING PERSON John Rosow is a P.I., hired off a cold call to trail a man. It turns out he’s distinctly bad at his job — once he’s got his mark in sight, he starts slamming martinis and, tall and unsteady, makes a conspicuous tail. Rosow — played by Michael Shannon, whose rumpled face suggests harrowing knowledge and unmade beds — is introduced grunting through a gummy hangover mouth, his leak of complaining noises never stopped up. After a leisurely pursuit from Chicago to L.A. to Mexico, he hauls his prey back East, where they’ll confront NYC and the memories they abandoned there. The date will be established as post-9/11, but Rosow is a culture-shocked noir refugee, befuddled by camera phones, chastised for smoking by a cop on a Segway, and photographed in raspy, desaturated HD instead of his native black-and-white. Auteur Noah Buschel’s film references touchstones of the lonesome 1930s — one of Rosow’s flashbacks reproduces Edward Hopper’s New York Movie; his target’s backstory, an ordinary life amputated by close-call trauma, borrows from Hammett’s Maltese Falcon — all of which is well and artsy, but doesn’t diminish the sense, once the mystery has untangled, that the film has been gesturing toward a profundity that isn’t there. (Sunset 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

NINJA ASSASSIN Isn’t that a tautology — both ninja and assassin? Redundancy aside, having braved zombies in 28 Days Later, Naomie Harris now faces a centuries-old clan of ninjas who have been hiring themselves out, Blackwater-style, as government mercenaries. Sad to say, the undead were more fun. Directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), and with Joel Silver and the Wachowskis as producers, Ninja Assassin is a hard-R blood fest with much CG and many severed limbs. Eurocop Harris discovers the ninjas’ secret role in black-ops history, so, naturally, they come after her — that’s the entire plot. But one Bourne-like rogue ninja (South Korean pop star Rain) does try to protect her from the silent swarm of sword-wielding assassins. (Strict traditionalists, ninjas here appear incapable of driving, using guns or cell phones, or smiling.) Ninjas love the shadows and abhor the light, leaving most of their battles murky and difficult to follow. (Try to count the screams, arterial geysers and fallen limbs, then do the math; the ninjas always win.) With a passable smirk, 300-style abs and limited English, Rain has zero chemistry with Harris; indeed, they spend half the movie apart. (Interminable flashbacks to his early training are like a ninja Hogwarts, complete with magical powers and puppy love.) A triple-cross plot with Harris’ superiors doesn’t help the movie’s clarity — neither does the clattering sound design. Shouldn’t throwing stars be silent? If they’re gonna sound like gunshots, why not just use guns? (Citywide) (Brian Miller)

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