Friday Flicks: Pacino, Walken and Arkin are the ‘Stand Up Guys’

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Stand Up Guys

Tagline: They don’t make ’em like they used to.

The combined age of the three stars in Fisher Stevens’ Stand Up Guys is a staggering two hundred and nineteen. While on one level it’s reassuring to see that even in 2013, leading men don’t always have to conform to the whims of youth-obessed focus groups, one wonders if Al Pacino (72), Christopher Walken (69) and Alan Arkin (78) will find any members of the younger demographics making the trip to the cinema.

For anyone who does attend, they’ll find another key number at the heart of the plot: 28. That’s how many years Val (Pacino) has spent in prison after refusing to give up one of his fellow crooks back in the day. Now free, he’s being picked up by best friend Doc (Walken) for a long-awaited reunion with their pal Hirsch (Arkin). The only twist in this septuagenarian buddy fest is that one of the three amigos is contracted to bump off one of the others.

Pacino, Arkin and Walken seem like an eminently watchable ensemble and it’s interesting to note that the trio has never appeared together in a movie before. “Most of the modest pleasures are in the ways the men expertly play off one another and invest their shallow characters with more depth than any filmmaker could reasonably expect,” remarks the New York Times. “Despite some predictable predicaments — and the inevitable Viagra joke — the film is clever in the way it deals with the high cost of mob connections and the even higher cost of old age,” adds the Los Angeles Times. But before you get too carried away, note that the Village Voice tells us that the plot “plays out like you would fear,” while Time Out New York says “this moronically unfunny gangster comedy fluctuates wildly between the lowest-of-low humor and pity-the-aged-man pathos, and offers further evidence that the best days are behind its iconic cast members.”

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Bullet to the Head

Tagline: Revenge never gets old

Much like the actors in Stand Up Guys, the star and director of Bullet to the HeadSylvester Stallone and Walter Hill, respectively – have never worked together before, even if their best-known work took place over the same time period in the 1970s and ’80s. In fact, Hill wanted Stallone’s services on 48 Hrs. and The Driver, but Sly passed on both occasions.

If you’ve been waiting for them to collaborate, wait no more. Adapted from a French comic book series, Bullet to the Head finds Stallone playing a middle-aged hitman called Jimmy Bobo – he’d fit right in as a Stand Up Guy – who decides, with the assistance of Taylor Kwan (Sung Kang, Fast & Furious) to avenge the murder of his partner.

These kinds of comeback/revenge films litter the later careers of once-dominant actors, and they tend to come in for a battering from critics. And once you read Empire‘s withering assessment that Bullet to the Head is “so thuddingly average that you might spend half of its running time wistfully thinking of what might have been and the other half giving thanks that it didn’t happen,” you fear the worst. But Variety doesn’t seem to have the same problem, noting that the film’s “chief pleasure lies in its store of funny lines, which Stallone tosses off with genuine brio.” And the Hollywood Reporter feels it’s a cut above Sly’s recent work: “We’re clearly in Expendables territory here, though unlike those rather drawn-out affairs, Hill keeps his movie lean and mean, cutting straight to the punchlines while administering violence in quick and crunching doses.”

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Sound City

We don’t tend to write about documentaries too often on Friday Flicks, which is a shame when you consider the rich content on offer. But now, perhaps somewhat surprisingly considering the director is best known for playing music rather than telling stories, comes Sound City.

The first-time director is Dave Grohl, formally of Nirvana and founder of the Foo Fighters. Sound City is about the wealth of stories he’s unearthed from the legendary California recording studio of the same name. Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Metallica and Nirvana all put their sublime talents to work there and Grohl wants the world to know about it.

Just as exciting, when Sound City closed down in 2011, Grohl purchased the Neve mixing board which many feel was responsible for the sounds that emanated from the studio; an all-star album recorded on it is due next month. But before the music, the reviews: The Daily Telegraph hails Sound City as “an exhilarating exploration of the creative process.” And the Hollywood Reporter, also employing the ‘E’ word, calls the film “an exhilarating history of the studio that spawned countless rock classics,” and a “lovingly assembled insider account of what it feels like to make real handcrafted rock music.”

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NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: Scheduled for simultaneous theatrical and VOD release, it sounds as if Sound City is a must-watch — or rather a must-listen.

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