Picks of the Week
‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’
(PG-13, 115 minutes, Paramount): The 2009 “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (starring Channing Tatum and Dennis Quaid) was billed as a reboot, but it’s not.
Rather than wiping the slate clean, the filmmakers integrate, seemingly at random, elements from the previous film. It’s as if the computer successfully restarted but half the icons disappeared.
For all its absurdity, the movie (now starring Tatum, with Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis) takes itself awfully seriously. Yes, the goofy one-liners are there, but so are the earnest back stories about making it against all odds. And while “G.I. Joe” is merely a movie based on Hasbro toys, the action feels just as lifeless. With so many sequences obviously computer-generated, the excitement bleeds out of the fight scenes.
If “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” taught us one small thing, it’s that box-office returns have more to do with familiar franchise names than with quality. People may want to see “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” despite its illogicality. But don’t say you weren’t warned.
Contains combat violence, martial arts action, brief sensuality and language.
Extras: Commentary with director Jon Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura; deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes features including shorts on stunts. Also available in 3-D.
‘War on Whistleblowers’
(Unrated, 66 minutes, Disinformation): The latest film from Robert Greenwald, which had a limited spring run, follows the stories of four Americans who risk their personal and professional careers by coming forward to tell the truth of government or contractor fraud and illegal activity.
With its subtitle, “Free Press and the National Security State,” this documentary release comes at a time when news of the National Security Agency’s systematic surveillance of innocent citizens is still making headlines.
One of the whistleblowers, Thomas Drake, was a senior NSA executive when he exposed the Stellar Wind warrantless surveillance program – and was charged with multiple violations of the National Espionage Act. A statistic displayed to introduce one scene – “NSA routinely collects 1.7 billion e-mails and phone calls every day” – foretells the recent Verizon phone scandal.
Drake and two other whistleblowers, a Lockheed Martin project manager and Justice Department attorney, lost their jobs and, by the film’s end, still were struggling after spending thousands of dollars in legal fees to clear their names (almost all charges were dropped).
Only one, a Marine who worked in the Pentagon and uncovered the unsafe use of Humvees in Iraq, was regarded a hero and came through the ordeal mostly unscathed.
Their stories are rounded out by interviews with investigative journalists such as Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff (now with NBC), the New York Times’ David Carr and Washington Post’s Dana Priest, as well as whistleblower advocates such as “Pentagon Papers” leaker Daniel Ellsberg and the National Taxpayers Union.
Extras: Commentary by Greenwald, extended interviews and footage of other whistleblowers.
(R, 100 minutes, Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment): This routine music business cautionary tale casts a Latino actress as its lead, but doesn’t do enough to shed the exasperating confines of the star-is-born genre.
Gina Rodriguez, a versatile young talent, tries to rescue “Filly Brown” from mediocrity. She’s asked to keep a lot of plates spinning in this Sundance Film Festival favorite – and somehow avoids blame when most of them fall to the ground and shatter.
“Filly Brown” is a stage name adopted by Majo Tonorio (Rodriguez), a tough but sensitive L.A. street poet who frequents the studio of a popular Internet radio program because the hosts let her spit freestyle rhymes over electronic beats. Filly’s natural talents lure a sleazy music producer whose first order of business is to sex up her act. That opens the door to a possible record contract with local music mogul Big Cee (Noel Gugliemi), though Filly is ordered to burn bridges between her friends and family to make that dream a reality.
Rodriguez, ripping through raps laced with political and ethical messages for and about the Latin American community, convinces us that Filly’s voice needs to be heard.
Contains strong language, some drug use and violence.