12/31/2013: Don Jon, Linsanity, Dear Mr. Watterson, Last Love

Don Jon (R, 2013, Fox)
Jon’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) intense addiction to porn is, to hear him describe it, a matter of practicality — a way to enjoy the highs of sex without dealing with the lows, even though he goes out his way every weekend to chase those as well. He looks and sounds like a cartoon character, he’s the son of an even more pronounced cartoon character (Tony Danza), his pursuit of one woman (Scarlett Johansson) above all others makes almost no sense to us or her, and believe it or not, all this and more plays into one of the most fun romantic comedies (to use the term about as loosely as usage allows) of 2013. “Don Jon” and the character bearing its name make immediate and potently grimy first impressions, and there is no point where it betrays that griminess to change course and undermine everything that makes this so oddly engrossing. Things do change as “Jon” goes from A to Z, and without spoiling the whats and hows, they aren’t insignificant things. But “Jon’s” unflinching devotion to unapologetic honesty — bound to turn many off, likely to scare others away, but by a mile its best, funniest, and most special trait — never wavers. Julianne Moore also stars.
Extras: Five behind-the-scenes features, shorts from Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord studio.

Linsanity (PG, 2013, Arc Entertainment)
In the two years since Linsanity took a planet of sports fans by storm, Jeremy Lin has returned to Earth as good but wholly mortal sixth-man point guard for the Houston Rockets. Consequently, Linsanity doesn’t feel like forever ago so much as something we all must have imagined, and the presence of a documentary bearing the phenomenon’s name feels premature for a player whose NBA career likely projects to end up somewhere hovering just above pretty good. But the most wonderful thing about the mostly wonderful “Linsanity” is how potently the feeling returns when the moment arrives where Lin transformed, over a couple hours and then a couple weeks, from an inevitably jobless NBA never-was to the biggest sensation on the planet. Partial credit naturally goes to the moment itself, which stands alone as one of those rare times where real-life sports looks crazier than a Disney film. But Lin himself participates heavily in “Linsanity’s” recollection not only of his breakout moment, but the lean and sometimes ugly years that preceded and nearly prevented it. His complete candor — sometimes to funny effect, sometimes at his own expense, but almost always honest in a way few athletes are on the record — takes what would have been a fun but needless documentary and elevates it into a can’t-miss for anyone who appreciates the game.

Dear Mr. Watterson (NR, 2013, Gravitas Ventures)
There’s an elephant in “Dear Mr. Watterson’s” room, and if you have any familiarity with the philosophies of the extraordinarily reclusive cartoonist who created “Calvin and Hobbes” and refused to allow it within 10 miles of any merchandising of any kind, your first and only guess — that Watterson had no participation whatsoever in the making of this documentary — is the only guess you need. Perhaps a little more surprising, at least given the implications of that title, is filmmaker Joel Allen Schroeder’s seeming refusal to even attempt to garner any kind of participation on Watterson’s part. As a fan film, “Watterson” makes the most of being in an odd spot, sprinkling some glimpses into Watterson’s cartooning roots atop the recollections of fans, curators and fellow cartoonists. For would-be cartoonists, that last part, which spills out into an interesting discussion about where the medium has gone and is going in the current media climate, represents “Watterson” at its most interesting. It’s too bad, really, that Watterson himself isn’t present, beyond a few older quotes, to chime in on a discussion he inadvertently started. Though Schroeder arguably isn’t at fault, the near-complete absence of Watterson in a movie bearing his name creates a huge void that fans and Schroeder’s own loving appreciation can’t fill all by themselves. And while Watterson’s lack of participation almost certainly was a given no matter the effort, Schroeder’s post-credits admission that he never even attempted contact with his subject is hard to understand and fruitless to defend.

Last Love (NR, 2013, Image Entertainment)
The first leg of “Last Love” isn’t perfect, nor is it necessarily even believable with any amount of cynicism applied. But when English-speaking American widower Matthew (Michael Caine) meets the youthful, bilingual and wonderfully sweet Pauline (Clémence Poésy) on what otherwise would have been just another bus ride during just another lost day of missing his late wife and wandering alone through his adopted not-quite-home of Paris, it at least feels kind of perfect. Pauline and Matthew each lament the loss of family in different ways, and the friendship they build almost from nothing is quirky, fun and the kind of phenomenon that makes relationships look easy and makes us wonder why it isn’t can’t just be that easy. And then, abruptly, “Love” finds the biggest bucket of ice water in Paris, lifts it high in the air and rains cold water down over everything. A sudden and unwelcome story turn leads to the appearance of two comparably unwelcome characters, and from here, “Love” makes a gradual but rapidly dispiriting descent into the muck — of family politics, baggage and the grey clouds of frayed relationships — that it so delightfully and believably escaped early on. Misery never consumes it, and occasionally the film’s early light shines through late. But “Love” never finds its old form after letting it slip away, and the dubious events that send the movie home are hard to reconcile for all the wrong reasons.
Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes.

12/17/13: Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Elysium, The Family, Night Train to Lisbon, Kick-Ass 2

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (R, 2013, IFC Films)
When a local sheriff (Ben Foster) talks his way into the home of Ruth (Rooney Mara) — wife of freshly-escaped outlaw Bob (Casey Affleck), mother of their child and a heavier participant in Bob’s crimes than is commonly known — the unspoken implication of what’s to come is another case of a cop abusing his power and verbally throwing his weight around to no good end. What follows instead is a conversation so honest that it makes one feel bad for harboring such cynicism, even if it’s the movies themselves that trained us to be so cynical. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor point, and given what we’ve already seen by then, it may even be an obligatory one. But it’s one of several instances where “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” plays with expectations while also occasionally playing deliberately into their hands. There’s nothing complicated about the premise: Bob wants to return to Ruth, Ruth wants him back, and everybody in town, up to and including the cops, knows it. But only Bob, Ruth and the audience know the full details of what happened the day Bob went down, and “Saints” plays along by keeping the outlaws on the customary path while everyone on the right side of the law grows increasingly trickier to read. No attempts are made to deceive or play tricks on us, and “Saints” is, in numerous respects, as simple as it initially looks. But that small, occasional but effective element of surprise, mixed into a bounty of skillfully-realized characters playing beyond their archetype, makes “Saints” more engrossing than its premise and tempo would suggest at a glance.

Elysium (R, 2013, Sony Pictures)
Apparently, if the recent crop of movies about Earth’s demise is to be believed, the rarest mineral on our rotted planet will be a middle ground. There certainly isn’t one to be found in 2154, where billions of sick and poor labor on a ravaged, toxic Earth while their bosses and the rest of the wealthy elite live like royalty on a utopian space station, Elysium, that’s brimming with blue skies, delicious food and med bays that can heal the sick with the snap of a finger. Which begs the question: If it’s that easy to fix the sick, then what, besides an impossibly callous mob mentality, compels Elysium’s high society to deny Earthlings such an easy fix? “Elysium” can’t say — or rather, it’d rather not, because that would kneecap the extremely broad parable about healthcare and immigration that constantly, via equal parts extremely fallible logic and nakedly ham-handed lecturing, undercuts its own science fiction. Visually, “Elysium” — whether on Earth, in paradise or even the vast space in between — looks terrific. It looks so good, in fact, that during the stretches where it focuses on shutting up, looking good and moving quickly, it’s great entertainment. But when “Elysium” stops and talks for too long, the caricatures, lectures, heavy strokes and implausibilities it creates strike back with a vengeance. Optimistically, that affords us multiple ways to enjoy “Elysium” — through saintly patience as pretty sci-fi, ironically as accidental self-parody, or as a detective picking apart the bounty of ways these opposing worlds just don’t believably add up. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be nice if just one of these movies could either find some shades of gray or, if unable to do so, check the lecture at the door and just entertain us for a couple hours? There are ways to spin parables about our present condition in ways that won’t alienate those who feel differently, but “Elysium” is so broad that even those who do agree may sense a tinge of alienation seeping in. Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley star.
Extras: Extended scene, six behind-the-scenes features.

The Family (R, 2013, Fox)
Millionaire mobster-turned-snitch Giovanni (Robert De Niro) and his family (Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo) have, via witness protection, relocated — and not for the first time, and likely not for the last given their bad habits and Giovanni’s continued pursuit of the good life. This time, the destination is Normandy, France, and the family blends in about as well as a family from Brooklyn’s cartoon character district should expect to assimilate. “The Family,” meanwhile, does some peculiar blending of its own. Is it a comedy? A family drama? A farce? A straight-faced violent mobster movie? Mostly, sometimes, sort of and yes. To varying degrees, it’s even successful at all four, even if it’s only truly funny when Giovanni is genially giving his FBI contact (Tommy Lee Jones) headaches. The divided attention finds “The Family” wearing an identity crisis up and down its sleeve, and the lack of focus results in a weird movie that clearly wishes it had twice as much time to reconcile the gap between comedy and violence. On the other hand, the attempt to make that reconciliation makes this entertaining in its own strange way. We’ve had more than a few straight-faced mobster movies and more than enough attempts at mobster farce, and “The Family’s” desire to have it all — not unlike Giovanni’s own wishes — makes it fun to watch and root for even if its failure to actually get it all is a foregone conclusion.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Night Train to Lisbon (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
During a brisk, rainy walk across a bridge en route to work, professor Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) spots and saves a woman seconds before she was to jump to her death. Though she follows him to his classroom, she disappears not long after, prompting Raimund to abandon his class mid-lesson, chase after her and gather enough information to board a train she supposedly is riding to Lisbon. Sounds exciting, right? Certainly. But all of this happens within the span of “Night Train to Lisbon’s” opening scenes, and the thrill of a man spontaneously dropping everything over a chance encounter rapidly peters out from there. Raimund’s clue-gathering journey leads to a book, which leads to an author (Jack Huston) and an author’s history whom Raimund plunders in hopes of finding a connection to the woman he saved. Much of “Lisbon,” meanwhile, occurs in flashback form as Raimund seeks answers to those questions and finds himself heading down a whole different rabbit hole than originally intended. Had “Lisbon” purely been framed as a story about the past Raimund discovers, the extra focus and cohesion may have turned it into something arresting. But as a disjointed history lesson about characters who mostly do not even exist in the film’s present day, it’s a dry, steep fall from the excitement of that opening scene. By the time “Lisbon” once again becomes a story about Raimund, the thrill has long since gone, and the meek attempt to bring it back is more fruitless than a butcher shop.
Extras: Interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

Kick-Ass 2 (R, 2013, Universal)
Dumb fun, sure, but amid a glut of sterile, indistinguishable superhero movies, “Kick-Ass” was a revelation that used regular people — and kids (Chloë Grace Moretz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson), no less — to more vividly convey the ugly side of superheroism than its glossier rivals ever got close to replicating. A few years and a few more regular-folks-as-superheroes movies later, it’s like nobody learned anything. Perhaps feeling pressure to outdo its predecessor, “Kick-Ass 2” spills out everywhere, with graphic violence just because, bad one-liners everywhere, a dozen-plus people in ridiculous hero and villain getups, and all the noise (from music montages to bodily functions gone bad) that movies with nothing to say make when the silence gets uncomfortable and there’s lots of time to kill. The great irony of it all is that in between the attempts to shock, there’s a storyline that bears all the dull markings of a second film in the kind of tired superhero trilogy the original “Kick-Ass” put to shame. It’s a mostly poor attempt, particularly with regard to how ridiculously, unreasonably absurd Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character has become in his transformation from two-faced sidekick in the first film to stupidly-dressed supervillain here, but the stale scent holds court over this mess all the same.
Extras: Cast/writer/director commentary, alternate opening, extended scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features.

12/10/13: The Hunt, Despicable Me 2, Sightseers, Good ol' Freda, Touchy Feely

The Hunt (R, 2012, Magnolia)
When six-year-old Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) knocks on Lucas’s (Mads Mikkelsen) door and asks if she can take his dog for a walk as she probably has done numerous times before, it stands to reason that Lucas — a teacher at Klara’s school and her father’s (Thomas Bo Larsen) best friend until a series of innocent communication breakdowns led to her accusing him of extremely indecent behavior toward her — would deny her this time. In a clumsier movie, the mere existence of such a scenario, smack in the middle of the story, would be too preposterous to believe. In the masterfully handled “The Hunt,” it’s simply the gut-turning apex of a broken man gently putting up a wall between himself and a friend who doesn’t understand why his daughter would lie, a town that has its pitchforks sharpened and bared, and a sweet kid who got mad one day, told a fib, and simply doesn’t understand the gravity of that fib and the damage it’s wreaked. That it’s possible not only to not hate Klara, but practically hurt for her as she looks longingly at the dog and walks away is a considerable compliment to “The Hunt,” which takes on an extraordinarily difficult subject and, with extreme grace but without fear, explores a what-if scenario that’s so emotionally loaded as to resemble taboo in the wrong light. Toeing a line that thin and sharp without losing courage is a feat few movies have ever accomplished, and “The Hunt’s” ability to do so without a single flinch makes it one of the year’s best. In Danish with English subtitles.
Extras: Alternate ending, deleted/extended scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Despicable Me 2 (PG, 2013, Universal)
Former supervillain Gru’s transformation to the light side already was unofficially complete when he became a father of three orphans and an incalculable number of giggling alien-like minions in the first “Despicable Me.” But with his recruitment by the Anti-Villain League to save the world from the clutches of a new evil mastermind, it’s now official — even if that recruitment comes reluctantly, forcefully and with a ton of slapstick applied. With respect to Gru’s conflicted feelings, it’s clear almost immediately, as formidable but undeniably pretty agent Lucy Wilde effectively kidnaps him en route to recruiting him, where “Despicable Me 2” probably is headed. A few minutes later, we have a good idea what the minions’ role in this unfolding calamity will be. “DM2” is, like its predecessor, adherent to formula — so much so that it amusingly acknowledges it at almost the same time it falls into formation. And it can do that, because for the second straight movie, it simply does not matter. On his own, Gru is a terrific character with a bottomless contradictory reserve of sharp wit and childish baggage to carry the movie all by himself. But then there are his kids, who are adorable, brutally honest (in that cute “kids says the darndest things” kind of way) and pretty funny themselves. Then, of course, there are the minions, whose loyalty to Gru runs second only to the relentless temptation to indulge their endless curiosity and react like gibbering, giggling maniacs to pretty much everything that results from that indulgence. In terms of genuinely funny slapstick, the Minions can stand tall next to anybody, real or animated, yet “DM2’s” sharply funny script never feels dependent on that slapstick bailing it out. The two work in perfect, brilliant tandem, and the results are so entertaining that it doesn’t matter if we all know well in advance how the story ends.
Extras: Three new Minion shorts (with a making-of feature), directors commentary, deleted scene, four additional behind-the-scenes features.

Sightseers (NR, 2013, MPI)
Tina’s (Alice Lowe) mother (Eileen Davies) has concerns about her daughter embarking on a caravan holiday with newish boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram), and while we don’t have the full details as to why, her shout of “Murderer!” followed by nothing resembling a denial in return would seem to validate her concerns. That, for folks with any interest in seeing “Sightseers,” is perhaps the best place to get off the spoiler train and go in blind the rest of the way. “Sightseers” doesn’t hold any poignant lessons in store, nor is it a revelation as a character study. It is, simply, a calmly insane dark comedy about a murderer, the girlfriend who may be crazier than he is, a mom whose concern and apathy wage war on the surface of her mind, and what must be one thoroughly baffled little dog. It’s a smartly-written mess, but a mess all the same — the kind of comedy that’s funny not for anything it does, but for the slippery way it lulls you buying into its love story while leaving you to shake your head the whole way. (The ending, without spoiling why, could scarcely be more perfect, either.)
Extra: Interviews.

Good ol’ Freda (PG, 2013, Magnolia)
You can’t say you aren’t warned — by the subject herself, in fact, and not merely once. Freda Kelly served as The Beatles’ secretary from the time they were local nobodies until after they broke up, witnessing the formation and rise of one of history’s biggest bands from deep inside the inner circle. Since then, she’s remained as loyal as ever to the band, keeping her story unusually quiet and shunning the temptation to turn her unique role as fan club gatekeeper into a riches and fame. This, regardless of what it looks like, doesn’t change that. “Good ol’ Freda” is made with Kelly’s blessing, she provides the film’s narration and most of its stories, and there’s a hot minute where her daughter understandably wonders aloud why her mom still has to pull 9-to-5 hours doing clerical work while the band she accompanied from beginning to end sits on an empire worth billions. But if Kelly herself wonders the same thing, she never lets on, and if “Freda” ever prodded her for insight, her answer must have been diplomatic enough to not make the film. Kelly doubtlessly has forgotten exponentially more dirt about The Beatles than most outsiders ever uncovered, but the fond recollections she shares with “Freda” — provided primarily as a means of sharing her story with her grandchild than as a grab for attention — are dirt-free and nothing less than completely sweet. Even casual Beatles fans aren’t bound to learn much they didn’t already know, but enjoyed simply as a trip down memory lane with someone who rode shotgun the whole way and loved every minute of it, “Freda” is a light but sweet treat.
Extras: Director/Kelly commentary, screening Q&A, deleted scenes, interview, behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery.

Touchy Feely (R, 2013, Magnolia)
As alarmingly meek dentist Paul (Josh Pais) stammers about a broken toilet over dinner with his potentially equally fragile daughter Jenny (Ellen Page), “Touchy Feely” enters with a whimper. Some 85 minutes later, following a story about Paul’s practice that runs both parallel and contrary to a story about his sister Abby’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) massage therapy practice, the film exits roughly the same way. In between, “Feely” is a contradiction — a human drama about the literal and figurative human touch, but one whose own touch is so exasperatingly dulled by its own raging timidity that the sheepish beginning marks the peak of a long plateau instead of a step toward something resonant, funny, revelatory or simply lifted by its own pulse. “Feely’s” cast doesn’t sleepwalk through its lines or let down the script by keeping their distance from it. Rather, they simply look stuck inside storylines and characters that give them little breathing room before everything kind of resolves itself as quickly as it unraveled in the first place. Even when technically fulfilled, “Feely” never leaves us feeling the same way — just another completely adequate but fully unremarkable movie that practically begs you to look away while watching and forget you ever saw anything once it’s over.
Extras: Director/DeWitt/Pais commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

12/3/13 : Lost and Found, The Wolverine, Jobs, Drinking Buddies, Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, The Canyons

Lost and Found (NR, 2008, Entertainment One)
The computer-animated “Lost and Found” is the story of a boy and the penguin who unexpectedly shows up at his door one day, and the total number of words uttered by both during the course of the story is zero. Credit certainly is in order to Jim Broadbent, who very gracefully takes the speaking reins as narrator and leaves the boy to quietly ponder his surprise houseguest. But if even Broadbent had decided to go silent, “Found’s” wonderful gift of expression — a less-is-more master class that is at once subtle and unmistakably demonstrative — would leave one hard-pressed to wonder if something was missing. “Found’s” animation style, though clearly the work of computers, also serves as proof that not every movie assembled from rendered polygons need look like it obeyed the Pixar manual of style. By adopting a classic look — nearly but not completely like wooden toys come to expressive life — “Found” stands refreshingly apart amid a pretty but visually staid genre in need of some new energy. The sweet and funny story that pulls it all together could scarcely do better justice to that style, either.
Extra: Lengthy making-of feature.

The Wolverine (NR/PG-13, 2013, Fox)
With the oddly-titled “The Wolverine,” Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) gets his Ang Lee “Hulk” movie moment — delicate pace, pensive mood, audience-polarizing capabilities, the works. Compared to 2009’s more understandably-named “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which bit off more exposition than it could chew and coughed up a completely ordinary origins movie as result, the new “Wolverine” has a more singular focus and fewer heroes and villains getting in the way of that focus. Set almost exclusively in Japan — both in present day and, briefly, during World War II — it enjoys the benefits of a fish-out-of-water story and takes advantage to comic, unsettling and curious effect. Due to mortality-related circumstances that won’t be spoiled here but likely can be seen coming, it’s also darker (for a Marvel movie, anyway), and there’s something appealing about the prospect of Wolverine taking on the Yakuza instead of more comic book villains (though there are, of course, a couple of those as well). Regardless, where “Origins” felt obligated to check off the usual array of origin-story boxes, “The Wolverine” feels like a sequel with only passing interest in obligation. There’s action, but it’s the punctuation for a run-on sentence of a story that takes its sweet time feasting on the psyche of a superhero who frequently looks out of his element. The approach is destined for polarization — canonically unfaithful to some, plain dull to others, and, for the subset of fans who have grown bored with comic book movies that almost all march to the same bored rhythm, Jackman’s best turn by far as Wolverine in four-and-change (and counting) attempts.
Extras: Extended cut of the film, director commentary, alternate ending, three behind-the-scenes features, second screen app.

Jobs (PG-13, 2013, Universal)
Perhaps the most admirable thing about “Jobs” is that it’s audacious enough to exist — and exist audaciously, in fact — even though it never really had a chance to matter. Steve Jobs’ life (portrayed here by Ashton Kutcher) has been exhaustively documented both in the moment and in retrospect, and the 656-page Walter Isaacson biography plundered the depths of detail in ways that are completely prohibitive to a feature-length movie (to say nothing of “Jobs,” which plays like a biopic borne out of secondhand research instead of firsthand accounts). Inevitably, “Jobs” finds itself in a position to please no one. Those unfamiliar with the story will be left to assume nothing of note happened during Jobs’ wilderness years between stints at Apple (“Jobs” barely acknowledges them), while those who do know the story will lament the omission of some of the most fascinating years of his career. The cut is understandable considering how much scrambling “Jobs” has to do — music montages, dubiously authentic melodramatic speeches and all — to take a lengthy story about obsessive devotion to nuance and compress it into something that hits the usual dramatic high notes. That’s the bad news. The good news? Taken for what it amounts to — a rah rah movie about doing the impossible, doing it well and living a life that changes a world previously shaped by people “that were no smarter than you” — it actually hits those notes more respectably than not. “Jobs” holds no candle to the book, it never feels remotely as personal or engrossing as the abundantly accessible mountain of Jobs’ own written and recorded words, it occasionally overdoses on schmaltz and embarrasses itself, and it ultimately wouldn’t matter if it never even existed. But “Jobs” genuinely conveys the excitement of meticulous hard work and a job magnificently done, and that understanding goes a long way for the viewer who holds those beliefs in the same high regard.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

Drinking Buddies (R, 2013, Magnolia)
When humans in the future compile a list of history’s most stirring film speeches, the bombardment of “totally, um, yeahs” that Jill (Anna Kendrick) unleashes on Luke (Jake Johnson) when discussing their future probably won’t make the cut. That’s only a half-knock, because “Drinking Buddies” — the story of fun-loving microbrewery employee Kate (Olivia Wilde), her kinda serious boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston), her fun-loving co-worker (Johnson) and his kinda serious girlfriend (Kendrick) — isn’t in a stirring mood, and its extremely conversational style suits it more comfortably. Either way, we all know where this is headed almost as soon as the table is set, “Buddies” seems smart enough to realize we know, and the film does its damnedest not to be the same old movie a less imaginative screenwriter with a Hollywood ending mentality would lazily allow it be. The effort pays off, because “Buddies,” like real life, is emotionally messier and more grounded than your typical movie about the same stuff. But the cost of that temperament — a borderline comedy that’s never really funny, a drama that’s too busy maintaining its grounding to really unload all the emotion it bottles up — will price “Buddies” past a lot of viewers’ patience levels. There’s a reason Hollywood mentalities remain popular in Hollywood, and “Buddies'” divisive lack of emotional spectacle is as bound to be its biggest drawback for some as it is its saving grace for others.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, three behind-the-scenes features.

Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (NR, 2013, Sundance Selects)
For a guy whose to-do list consists of “find a San Pedro cactus, go to the desert, drink its contents and hallucinate with friends,” American expatriate Jamie (Michael Cera) is seriously uptight. But maybe that’s the whole reason he needs a sip of San Pedro in the first place. Or maybe this elaborate cactus hunt-slash-acid trip is more trouble than it’s actually worth, and maybe that’s the inconvenient lesson hiding deep within Jamie’s road trip across Chile with friends and a free spirit (Gaby Hoffmann as Crystal Fairy) whom Jamie, much to his sober regret the next day, invited to ride along while high on coke at a party the night before. There are no wrong answers, because “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus” itself is a nebulous trip where what you see — fables, revelations, maybe nothing at all past boredom — may differ completely from what someone else sees. The rhythm is so erratic, in fact, that one might just walk away thinking it’s simply a lousy movie and have no shortage of ammo with which to support that argument. “Fairy,” to its credit — whether by design or by accident — doesn’t protect itself from this very possible outcome. By putting the relentlessly unlikable Jamie out in the open with a bullseye on his face, it practically invites it. But it’s that approach that allows “Fairy” to be something different to everyone based on the angle at which they approach it. It’s a tradeoff that arguably backfires, but amid a thousand drug movies and a thousand road trip movies that all travel in the same direction, it’s a valiant bet to make.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.

The Canyons (NR, 2013, IFC Films)
“The Canyons” is baggage in motion, a film that was unfairly savaged before it even surfaced but one that also lives up to the savage adjectives lobbed its way. It’s a desperate comeback project for an actress (Lindsay Lohan) who either no longer can act or no longer has enough clout to command dialogue that doesn’t make her look incapable. It’s a would-be breakout role for a porn star (James Deen) who instead validates the old adage about porn stars and actors being mutually exclusive professions. And it’s a movie about betrayal and the dregs of adult filmmaking that manages to be so boring that even its cast can’t resist looking down at their phones from time to time. “The Canyons'” existence is a net win, because the non-snarky recollections of its tumultuous creation provided reams of genuinely excellent reading. But purely on its own, it’s the worst kind of movie — so ill-conceived as to never engage its audience, yet so powerfully lifeless and bland that even enjoying it on an ironic level is next to impossible. If all that savage commentary was counting on anything, it was for “The Canyons” to at least be so bad as to be good. But even that low bar sits beyond reach here.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features.