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HOME MOVIES

By The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

This article was published January 3, 2014 at 1:53 a.m.

Big Ass Spider! directed by Mike Mendez

Big Ass Spider! directed by Mike Mendez (PG-13, 85 minutes)

The special effects in Big Ass Spider!, which concerns a large arachnid that grows larger over the course of 85 minutes, are far better than the film’s mini-budget would suggest. So is the story, and the performances.

As the title suggests, a giant alien spider - which starts out as a just-a-little-larger-than-credible spider - escapes from a secret military facility and rampages across Los Angeles. And it falls to two unlikely heroes, exterminator Alex (Greg Grunberg) and hospital security guard Jose (Lombardo Boyar), to do what the formidable U.S. Army (personified by Ray Wise, who plays a hard-nosed major) can’t.

“It’s obviously a tongue-in cheek project, a loving homage to the low-budget mega-creature movies of the ’50s, as well as a sly nod to Tremors, the 1990 schlockfest that established the template for indie movies that operated as enjoyable horror comedies and heartfelt tributes,” says our critic Philip Martin. “But it can also be enjoyed on its own merits. On one hand, it’s a schlocky movie about a big spider. On the other hand, it really is kind of wonderful.”

Don Jon (R, 90 minutes) Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directing debut in this authentic, entertaining comedy, playing a New Jersey guy dedicated to family, friends and church. But everybody has a dark side, and his fondness for pornography causes him to develop unrealistic expectations in regard to intimacy with bright, beautiful Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who believes in old-fashioned Hollywood romance. With Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson; directed by Gordon-Levitt.

CBGB (R, 101 minutes) Directed by Randall Miller, nostalgic, energetic but uninspired musical drama CBGB explores New York’s punk rock scene as it plays out at the groundbreaking Lower East Side club started by Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman) in 1973 as a home for country, bluegrass and blues (the basis for the club’s name). Entertainers who performed at the club, which closed in 2006, include the Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie, Green Day, Soul Asylum, the Police, Bruce Springsteen, Everclear, the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, the B-52s, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Himalaya (G, 109 minutes) This beautifully photographed 1999 drama, directed by Eric Valli and presented here in a Kino Classics remastered edition, concerns the daily lives and traditional customs of the people of Tibet. The story follows a charismatic aging chief in a remote village who loses his eldest son and refuses to allow his son’s friend, whom he holds responsible for his son’s death, to lead a caravan of yaks across the mountains. “Himalaya is a film about choices, pride and forgiveness, filled with memorable characters and stunning scenery,” says critic Jennie Punter in the Toronto Star. “And if you like yaks, this is the film for you.”

More Than Honey (not rated, 90 minutes) Swiss filmmaker Markus Imhoofuses remarkable close-up photography and thoughtful research in this unemotional documentary that explores the relationship between mankind and honeybees and investigates the issue of why bees across the world, from California to Switzerland, China to Australia, are facing extinction. “What’s really frightening about More Than Honey isn’t what a hive of angry bees might do to us, but what we’ve done to them,” says critic Michael O’Sullivan in the Washington Post.

Sweetwater (R, 95 minutes) If you’re a fan of Mad Men’s January Jones, that’s reason enough (and maybe the only reason) to watch Sweetwater. Set in the late 1800s, Sweetwater casts Jones as a former prostitute who’s trying to build an honest life with her husband in rough, rustic New Mexico. Unfortunately her good looks catch the eye of a sadistic religious leader (Jason Isaacs), resulting in a disaster that sets her on a bloody course of vengeance with the help of a rogue sheriff (Ed Harris). “There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than with a mediocre Western,” says L.A. Weekly critic Michael Nordine.

Love, Marilyn (PG, 107 minutes) A documentary by Liz Garbus explores the writings of Marilyn Monroe and challenges the misperception of the actress as a bubble-headed blonde. Based on the book Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, the film features readings of Monroe’s words by Uma Thurman, Viola Davis, Lindsay Lohan, Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn and F. Murray Abraham, to name a few. “A heartfelt and well-intentioned love letter to an already deeply beloved star … for anyone who’s still not convinced, the picture works hard to make the case for Monroe’s gifts as an actress,” says critic Stephanie Zacharek on NPR.

MovieStyle, Pages 29 on 01/03/2014

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