Crude ‘Escape,’ feeble ‘Friends,’ amusing ‘Mistress,’ breathtaking ‘Meru’

FS, Contributing Writer

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No Escape (wide release)
The Dowdle brothers, who previously specialized in horror movies, wrote and directed this action thriller starring Owen Wilson. However, this is just another typical horror film, except that the monsters pursuing a conventional American family are human beings rather than vampires or werewolves. Wilson plays an engineer who takes a job in an unnamed South Asian country. As soon as he gets there with his wife and two young daughters, a revolution breaks out, and gangs of rebels begin hunting down and killing all the hated westerners. Despite the title, the rest of the film is one long chase as the family repeatedly escapes their pursuers. They are helped through one desperate moment by a world-weary British intelligence agent (Pierce Brosnan, looking like James Bond gone to seed), who remarks that the uprising is the result of western corporate imperialism. But that throwaway line is the only hint of socio-political commentary in the movie, which is basically just a crudely efficient action potboiler in which the revolutionaries are portrayed as nothing more than bloodthirsty, sadistic brutes — a rather unsettling subtext to what is actually just a horror movie that cuts no deeper than “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

We Are Your Friends (wide release)
The world of electronic dance music in Los Angeles provides an edgy background for Max Joseph’s movie, which employs woozy camerawork, kinetic cinematography and splashy graphics to create an eye-catching, visual experience as well as a loud, throbbing, sonic one. Unfortunately, the story told against this backdrop is as musty as a 1940s melodrama. Zac Efron plays Cole, a nice, well-meaning fellow who wants to win fame and fortune as a celebrity DJ in the EDM scene. His friends endanger his hopes, not only with their inclination to a hedonist lifestyle driven by drugs and booze, but by getting him involved with a sleazy real estate promoter who aims to fleece poor souls whose houses are on verge of foreclosure. A greater obstacle to Cole living the dream, however, comes when he falls in with an established DJ who offers to mentor him, only to fall for the guy’s girlfriend — a relationship that threatens Cole’s ticket to success. Of course, since this is an old-fashioned tale, Cole will eventually fulfill his ambition despite all the obstacles he faces along the way. “We Are Your Friends” may look hip, but it certainly doesn’t play out that way.

Meru (Angelika)
This documentary — about three experienced climbers determined to ascend the Shark’s Fin side of Mount Meru (which rises more than 20,000 feet in the Himalayas) and to film the exploit themselves — is often visually thrilling. Climbers, along with enthusiasts who might prefer to enjoy such an extreme experience from a comfortable chair, will find the ascent footage a treat. The film also delves into the men’s personal lives, marked by familial problems and personal tragedies that prove as challenging as the climb itself. One can imagine this story being turned into a big Hollywood blockbuster, but it would have to be pretty good to match this account of the real deal.

Mistress America (Landmark’s Magnolia)
Director Noah Baumbach, who’s increasingly being recognized as the next generation’s Woody Allen, delivers a contemporary version of a screwball comedy with this tale of a flighty New York blonde who is filled with loads of entrepreneurial ideas, like writing a comic book featuring a superheroine called Mistress America, that unfortunately never get past the planning stage. Greta Gerwig stars as Brooke, the thirty-something force of nature who is always on the go but never seems to get anywhere, giving her a sad, vulnerable side that she is mostly successful in hiding. The plot kicks in when Brooke befriends Tracy, a college freshman recently arrived in New York who is about to become her stepsister. They become friends, but Tracy decides to use Brooke as the subject of a story she is writing as an introduction to the campus literary society — a portrait that is not entirely flattering. The movie concludes with an ensemble scene set at a Connecticut mansion where Brooke, Tracy, two of Tracy’s classmates, a couple Brooke wants to hit up for money to open a restaurant and various neighbors and acquaintances drop in and out, like characters in the finale of a comic opera. Baumbach stages it with considerable wit. Smart and sophisticated with an underlying strain of poignancy, the picture serves as a welcome antidote to the raunchy comedies Hollywood is producing in such profusion.

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