19 Aug 2014
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This Week at the Movies

'Snitch,' 'Dark Skies' and 'Like Someone in Love' all have merits, but not enough to recommend them.

This Week at the Movies

In “Snitch,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gives a subtle dramatic turn as a father whose son faces a stiff prison sentence after getting entangled with drug dealers.

The former pro-wrestler, who typically stars in special effects-heavy action films such as the upcoming “G.I. Joe” sequel, plays John Matthews, the owner of a trucking company whose son is arrested by federal agents after a ne’er do well pal sends him drugs through the mail.

The U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon) is a stickler and tells Matthews that the only way his son will get a reduced sentence is if he rats on drug dealers.

Instead, Matthews comes up with a business proposal for a local dealer – and then, later, a cartel leader (Benjamin Bratt) – that involves using his trucks to transport money across the Mexican border.

“Snitch” is not the indictment of the federal government’s laws for first time offenders that it aims to be. Nor is it a particularly realistic glimpse into the drug trade. But as a melodrama peppered with action sequences, it’s not too bad.

The cast is able, especially Jon Bernthal as an ex-con, and there are a few notably tense scenes as Matthews gets in deeper with the cartel. But it’s no “Traffic.”

Scott Stewart’s “Dark Skies” is a creepy alien abduction thriller that has some genuinely frightening sequences and a focus on character development that is rare for a picture of this type. But, ultimately, its runs out of steam.

In the film, a couple (Josh Hamilton and Keri Russell) and their two children are plagued by some strange goings-on in the wee hours of the night.

Several of the characters discover that they have sleepwalked and behaved strangely in their somnambulant states, household items are rearranged in strange patterns and one of the kids claims to be visited nightly by “the sandman.”

Since this is a horror movie, one of the parents is a believer and the other remains skeptical, even after 800 birds smack into the side of their home.

On the one hand, “Dark Skies” covers pretty familiar ground for a horror movie: little children behaving strangely, bumps in the night, a visit to a specialist who studies otherworldly phenomena and so on.

On the other hand, the film benefits from some decent performances, a few truly scary scenes (Russell discovers an intruder in her son’s bedroom) and some impressive photography (an overhead shot of one of the couple’s sons riding his bicycle through a quiet suburban neighborhood at night is effectively eerie).

But the picture begins to fall apart as it churns towards its incomplete ending. And while the filmmakers are smart for leaving the extraterrestrial tormenters in the shadows for much of the movie, they are not as scary once they are fully revealed.

“Dark Skies” is better than most of its ilk, but I believe there is a better alien abduction movie out there somewhere.

Abbas Kiarostami’s “Like Someone in Love” is the Iranian filmmaker’s second picture set outside his homeland. His previous movie, “Certified Copy,” was set in France and his latest takes place in Tokyo.

The film, which debuted at Cannes last year, is an intriguing brain teaser of a film that ultimately leads nowhere.

When we first meet Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a call girl, she is arguing with her jealous boyfriend via telephone and thinking up a way to get out of a night’s work to meet up with her grandmother, who is visiting town for the day.

But her boss insists that she meet up with a high priority client, so she fails to meet her grandmother at the station. As she travels via taxi to her appointment, she listens to a series of messages from her grandmother that makes for the film’s most emotionally satisfying scene.

Akiko spends her evening – and the following afternoon – with Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an aging professor, for an encounter that has nothing to do with sex.

Much of the film’s second half takes place in Takashi’s apartment or car as the two idle the day away before eventually running into Akiko’s mechanic boyfriend (Ryo Kase).

The film’s first half feels as if it is building towards something. The rapport between the old man and the call girl is effective, despite the fact that it’s difficult to understand why their “date” is taking place.

But the picture loses focus as it builds to its climax, during which there is a confrontation, of sorts.

“Like Someone in Love” features some lovely visuals and its mood – at least, during the first half – resonates. But its opaqueness may leave you scratching your head.

“Snitch” is playing at AMC Loews Fresh Meadows 7, while “Dark Skies” is screening at College Point Multiplex Cinemas and “Like Someone in Love” is at Manhattan’s Sunshine Cinema.

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