Weekend movies: Thumbs Up for “Dragon,” “22 Jump St.,” mixed reviews for “Signal”

The big releases from major studios this week are getting enthusiastic endorsements — or at least some love, from most critics.

The riotous “22 Jump Street” is the sequel to end all sequels. It mocks the idea of making a sequel, and then proceeds to ride that mockery all the way through a closing credits sequence that puts an exclamation point on the cynicism that inspires such films. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill score again, and Ice Cube uses his baggage to great effect in many his funniest performance since “Friday.”

I was never one to swoon over “How to Train Your Dragon.” Nice message, good animation, not a lot of laughs. More heart than laughs. Fine. What else? The sequel has even fewer laughs and the message is a bit more pacifist and muddled, to me anyway. I am in the minority on that one. Not bad, but not all that, either. Overwhelmingly positive reviews for “Dragon 2.”

“The Signal” is a fascinatingly strange and beautifully executed sci-fi thriller, more cerebral than most. Kind of “Catfish” like, if you follow. Mixed reviews for that one, but I liked it more than some.

There are this week, as most weeks, a lot of limited releases that are worth considering — films that smaller distributors picked up off the festival circuit.

“The Rover” is a powerful, minimalist thriller from A24, a “Mad Max” sort of post-Apocalyptic Australia road trip quest directed by the “Animal Kingdom” guy and starring Guy Pearce (terrific, grisly, dressed down) and Robert Pattinson (somewhat less so). Good notices for that one.

I really liked the minimalist dark comedy “A Coffee in Berlin,” sort of a “Slacker” in German and in black and white — very cool, funny at times. Lovely to look at.

“Hellion” is a very good teen in trouble drama with Aaron Paul as a blue collar dad trying to keep his motocross punk son in line after a family tragedy. Juliette Lewis is also very good in it. Mixed notices for that one.

“Lullaby” is a more moving, more pointed treatment of end-of-life issues than the monster teen hit “The Fault in Our Stars.” But it has no teens, so the critical pandering isn’t there, nor will there be much of an audience. Nice work by Richard Jenkins, Anne Archer, Garrett Hedlund and Amy Adams kind of goes to waste because of it.

“Witching & Bitching” is a hilarious Spanish comic thriller about a divorced robber whose getaway runs him, his sidekicks and his kid afoul of Spanish witches. Very Almodovarian. Fun.

“The Human Race” is a horror sci-fi purgatory thriller with some promise, despite the familiar tropes trotted out in it.

 

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