Category Archives: In Theaters

Movie Review: IRON MAN 3 (2013)

RACHEL HYLAND

Based on the comic character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby
Written by: Drew Pearce, Shane Black
Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, Ty Simpkins, the voice of Paul Bettany

In Short: Tony Stark faces his (and the country’s) demons.
Recommended: Hell, yes!

TONY: You know, it’s moments like these when I realize how much of a superhero I am.

The Marvel Universe is one of my very favorite vacation spots, but after the mind-blowing awesome that was Joss Whedon’s The Avengers last year, I have to admit that I went into Iron Man 3 with a perhaps unfair cynicism and preemptive disdain. After all, how could anything possibly compare? This general feeling of malaise wasn’t helped by the fact that while I quite enjoyed Iron Man 2, it didn’t really set my world on fire (and certainly has not stood the test of time), and so while of course I would not for a second have contemplated not seeing this movie as soon as it hit theaters, I was in no way enthusiastic about the prospect.

Wow, what a difference 130 minutes makes.

In the hands of director Shane Black, who takes the reins here from previous Iron Man auteur Jon Favreau (and yet Favreau’s still in the movie – how awkward would that have been, the first few days on set?), Robert Downey Jr.’s already captivating Tony Stark becomes, without a doubt, the greatest onscreen incarnation of a comic book character ever – sorry Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Chris Evans, Edward Norton and Christopher Reeve – and his story is made both human and superhuman and both action-packed and though-provoking as well as very, very funny.

We open with a flashback to pre-arc reactor Tony: selfish, arrogant, casually cruel. Okay, so just like post-arc reactor Tony, except more so. It’s the eve of Y2K, and he’s at a conference where he’s about to hook up with a beautiful scientist named Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and where they encounter a homely idealist named Aldritch Killian (Guy Pearce). Bells will be ringing in the heads of comic book nerds (such as myself) at this point, as both appeared in Warren Ellis’s acclaimed “Extremis” arc in the Iron Man title, which does, as it turns out, somewhat form the basis of our tale. In this version of events, Tony treats both pretty shabbily… and then we cut to fourteen years later.

Tony and One True Love/corporate lackey Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are shacked up in a fabulous mansion in the Malibu hills, but there is friction between the beautiful pair, brought on mostly by the fact that Tony is still in shock over the harrowing events over the skies of New York in The Avengers. Not only is he grappling with the fact that there are aliens out there who want to invade our planet, but he also just barely made it back through a wormhole that was opened up to another galaxy (in a vacuum!), and that is kind of freaking him the hell out. Understandable, really. So he spends his time not sleeping and tinkering with his armored suits – he’s up to the Mark 42, and it really is pretty cool, all sensor-called and activated, kind of like an advanced version of Xbox Kinect. But there is a global terror menace mounting, known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), and when Tony’s best friend and former bodyguard Happy Hogan (Favreau) is caught up in the evildoer’s latest demonstration, Iron Man issues a challenge: come and get me.

And The Mandarin, uh, kind of does.

Meanwhile, both Maya and Killian have resurfaced, and it turns out that, hey – how’s this for happenstance? – Pepper used to be the object of the latter’s unwelcome workplace affection. We learn (though we’d already suspected it) that Maya’s work on repairing missing limbs has been dangerously corrupted, and the explosions for which The Mandarin is taking credit are actually the result of her genetic manipulation. But with Tony missing and presumed dead after a spectacular attack on his home (Spoiler Alert: he’s not), what else is he to do but go to a small rural town in Tennessee, where he meets perhaps the cutest, most precocious half-pint accomplice this side of Hit Girl – though with much less of a potty mouth – and sets his formidable intellect to the problems of The Mandarin, the bombings and the recharging of his AI helpmeet, JARVIS. And having the occasional panic attack.

Needless to say – I assume; you have seen a comic book movie or two, right? – the Day is Saved. Indeed, several days are saved, and in quite spectacular fashion. There are White House staffers plummeting through the air and seriously souped-up terrorists to contend with and nefarious politicos and cunning disguises and self-aggrandizing act-ohrs and so very much more. Tony’s other BFF, the stoic, sarcastic Rhodey (Don Cheadle), is back in suit-clad action, Paltrow reveals some damned impressive abs (and an impressive emotional range along with them), and even Downton Abbey gets a look in. But in the end, after all of the adrenaline surges and the hearty chuckles and the re-examining of deeply held convictions – so that’s how easily the War on Terror can be manipulated! – the success of this movie comes down to two things only: the writing is excellent, and Robert Downey Jr. is even more so.

Director Black also co-wrote the film, and considering his filmic history (I mean, dude wrote Lethal Weapon), the humor-driven dialogue and cleverly adapted comic-y goodness should perhaps come as no surprise. Black’s only other claim to directorial fame is the thoroughly delightful crime caper Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, in which Downey Jr. also stars. (Coincidence?) Clearly, this pair are cinematic gold, like Burton and Depp: The Early Years. Let’s hope for more such collaborations.

And let us also hope for more such outings from the Marvel stable as this sterling example. With Captain America 2 (yay!) and Thor 2 (um… less “yay!”) out later this year, and with The Avengers 2 on the distant horizon – not to mention the rebooted Spidey sequel, as well as Hugh Jackman’s return in The Wolverine (okay, maybe Downey Jr. is equal “greatest onscreen incarnation of a comic book character ever”) – this looks destined to be a banner year for the comic house, as long as something even approaching this level of quality can be maintained throughout all of its many franchises and across its array of production studios.

(Superman who?)

– Rachel Hyland

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Jack the Giant Slayer

Review: JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)

MOVIES – ADAPTATIONS – FAIRY TALES – ACTION

RACHEL HYLAND

Based on the folk tales Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk
Story by: Darren Lemke, David Dobkin
Written by: Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Starring: Nicholas Hault, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy
US Release Date: Friday, March 1, 2013
Available on DVDand 3D Blu-Ray

In Short: A guy called Jack slays giants.
Recommended: Yes and no.

[Jack hesitates while jumping from the beanstalk]
CRAWE: Wanna know a little trick? When I’m afraid I imagine a big piece of cake floating right in front of me.
JACK: Brilliant. Thanks.
CRAWE: Like a reward, waiting for you, just within arm’s reach.
– Best motivational advice given while climbing a beanstalk ever.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, movie, I have absolutely no problem with this constant retreading, reimagining, retelling, recombining and recycling of classic stories in attempt to make them all shiny and new again. In this case, the fact that you managed to mesh the English folk tales of Jack the Giant Killer and the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk together so successfully that generations of children will doubtless confuse the two from here on out has me pretty impressed—and frankly, had you also decided to have your hero fall down a hill and jump over a candlestick and put his thumb into a Christmas pie, I’d have been one very happy viewer. I love a mashup, even in this oversaturated era of same, and making of the cow-selling, believing-beans-are-legal-tender, golden-goose-stealing Jack a proper young hero instead of a simpleton won over by a conman was, to me, a stroke of genius. (Of which, more anon.)

But MAN do the fantasy clichés take a beating in this movie. In fact, it helps pass the time to play a fun little game of Spot the Trope throughout, as all the usual suspects fly at us thick and fast. Look, there’s the unlikely hero! Look, there’s the unlikely hero saving the incognito princess! Look, there’s the princess begging her father for more freedom! Look, there’s the princess’s arranged marriage to the King’s trusted advisor! Look, there’s that very same trusted advisor secretly scheming for power! Look, there’s the cloistered princess behaving recklessly and having to be saved!

If this had been a drinking game, I’d have been trolleyed before the end of the first act.

Our unlikely hero is, of course, Jack (Nicholas Hoult), an orphan who, at age eighteen, lives with his nasty, improvident farmer uncle. (Look, there’s the poor orphan forced to live with a nasty, improvident relative!) Since they are low on funds, Jack is tasked with selling their last remaining horse in town, but when there are no takers he ends up exchanging it for – say it with me – a bag full of magic beans. Except they’re not magic beans in this instance, they’re “holy” beans, sacred beans that lead (a handily relevant children’s story tells us in the prologue) to the land of the menacing giants up in the clouds. The beans are entrusted to Jack by an earnest monk (Simon Lowe) who has evidently stolen them from sneaky old Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the aforementioned megalomaniacal trusted advisor, and who tells Jack two very important things. He must take the beans to his Abbey, and also – and this with very great portent – he mustn’t get them wet. (Gasp! They’re Gremlin beans!)

Now, I know I mentioned earlier that the Jack of this movie isn’t quite the sly simpleton of the fairy tale, but he doesn’t start out seeming too much smarter… instead of taking the beans directly to the abbey and being all like, “Hey Abbot, I hear these are important to you. Let’s talk deal,” he takes them back to his uncle who dashes them to the floor in disgust… and then, you’ll never guess what happens. It rains on one! But not before Jack is reunited with his love interest of just that afternoon, Princess Isobelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) of Cloister – yes, their Kingdom is named Cloister and she is rebelling against being so cloistered. Get it? – who has run away from the castle again and thanks him for earlier defending her honor against some toughs in a pantomime tent. Because where else do toughs hang out than in pantomime tents?

Barely have the two managed to exchange more than seven longing glances when the Gremlin beans start to do their fed-after-midnight thing, and Isobelle is punished for daring to be so independent and a girl at the same time by being swept up into the clouds by a rapidly-growing beanstalk. Jack, no fan of heights, springs to the rescue but is ultimately thrown back down to the ground for his troubles and Isobelle finds herself in the hands (and two heads) of the King of the Giants, who can evidently – and contrary to all known rhymes on such an occasion – smell the blood of a Cloisterwoman.

I could go into detail here of the heroics and hysteria surrounding the scaling of the beanstalk by Jack, Roderick and the Princess’s courtly bodyguard, Elmont (an over-enunciating Ewan McGregor), but there is hardly a need – you know where this is going right? Much action and derring-do and sacrifice ensues, not to mention the ultimate confrontation between good and evil, and along the way Jack’s status as a mere commoner is amended so that he may marry the princess, because hey, it ain’t called the Queendom of Cloister, after all. And, look, a happy ending for all the attractive people!

As an adaptation, Jack the Giant Slayer is a pretty big failure. I mean, there aren’t any singing harps or golden eggs or grinding men’s bones to make giants’ bread – there are a few “fe fi fo fums,” though, and to be fair, those other details are referenced in the film’s final scene. None of the stories of Jack the Giant Killer are properly represented here, like, at all. But as a fantastical action movie offering up some occasional flashes of surprising, enjoyable humor (especially in the interactions between Jack and bluff guard Crawe, played by Eddie Marsan), a non-threatening romance for the kiddies and heaping helping of giant-on-human violence (plus the torture of a monk), then, well, it’s not entirely a waste of time.

And at least director Bryan Singer has presented us with a visually spectacular film here – for me, the excellently-rendered 3D option made the more questionable parts of the tale easier to sit through. But in the final analysis, the story’s hodgepodge weakness undermines the cinematic scope of its grand fairy tale battlefield vision – and the final denouement, which suggests that all of this really happened and that the giants might come again one day and that the crown which will help us defeat them (oh, I forgot to mention the crown, didn’t I?) is very safely stored against future need is just an incredibly silly epilogue that we really didn’t need.

I wonder if the giants can smell the blood of Englishmen, too?

– Rachel Hyland

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Oz

Review: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Based on the Oz series by L. Frank Baum
Written by: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz

In Short: A less-wicked origin story, but less interesting.
Recommended: Kind of – this movie is best served on DVD.

OSCAR: I might not actually be a wizard.
GLINDA: Yes, but they don’t know that.

The Wizard of Oz is all about magic, and ingenuity and a sense of childlike wonder. Even with the other side of the MGM classic: that “not family-friendly” version where adults watch it on mute with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing while under the influence of… booze… there is a childlike wonder to the movie, the franchise, and the memories that they inspired.

All of those feelings came rushing back as I watched the first preview for this cinematic prequel. Beautiful scenery, the black and white vs. color transitions, all of it brought me back to how I felt the first time I followed Dorothy Gale down the yellow brick road.

The problem though, is when the trailer makes a promise that the movie can’t live up to. It’s not that the movie is terrible. The acting is good, the sets are gorgeous, and the plot is neither too slow nor too fast. But it made me feel like Dorothy waking up in Kansas, except that everything was reversed and it was Oz that was black and white:

“I had a dream! And you, set designers, were in it, and so were you pretty actors, and you too Sam Raimi! But it was all different! Why was my dream in black and white while reality is in color? Something is off!”

Oz, the Great and Powerful starts out well enough: James Franco plays Oscar Diggs (also known as Oz), a charlatan (dare I say for you Oz book enthusiasts, a humbug?) and a womanizer who is working at a circus and uses the same tired (but effective) tricks to get money and sex. He breaks the hearts of many brunettes before the lovely blonde Michelle Williams enters as his One True Love, Annie, although even she can’t keep him from being a cheat. So she goes off to marry John Gale, which… say what, movie? So she isn’t Auntie Em, but if she marries into the Gales, is she related to Dorothy? But we never find out because that question is not answered or even addressed.

After being caught with the strongman’s wife, Oz escapes by getting in a hot air balloon, just as a tornado comes by and sweeps him off. As a last-ditch effort to not die, Oz pleads with God to give him one more chance. He ends up in a colorful land full of wonder. And this part of the movie is magical; in fact, it seems like the only part that feels properly wonderful. Oz explores… well, the Land of Oz. There he meets another brunette, a good witch by the name of Theodora (Mila Kunis), who also happens to have a severe case of naïveté. He promptly seduces her, regardless of her childlike view of the world, and makes all sorts of promises to her that they will rule Oz together. At this point, I’m liking him less and less. Some hero. They also meet up with a flying monkey named Finley (Zach Braff) who swears his life to Oscar, and almost instantly regrets it.

Theodora and Oscar make it to the Emerald City where they meet Theodora’s sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who gives us the real scoop. Oscar can rule Oz and get all its treasure if he just kills a pesky Wicked Witch. So Oscar goes off with Finley down the Yellow Brick Road where he meets up with a China Girl (voiced by Joey King) – not the David Bowie kind, but rather one made out of porcelain. As they sneak into the Dark Forest to take the wand of the Wicked Witch, they find not a green-skinned monster but a blonde Michelle Williams! But she can’t be evil – she’s blonde! As it turns out, she is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. As we find out soon thereafter, it’s Evanora the Brunette who’s the real bad in this town.

Oscar is captivated by Glinda’s shiny, yellow hair and decides instantly to align with her, amazed that she should be Annie, but is not. Meanwhile, Evanora uses his new crush against him by showing Theodora his attraction in her crystal ball, thus turning Theodora into the Wicked Witch of the West. Together, the sisters send flying baboons (much scarier than the flying monkeys in the original movie) after Glinda, Oscar and Friends, forcing them to flee to Glinda’s kingdom. There, they make a plan of attack against the Wicked Sisters in the Emerald City. However, since Oscar has no magic, he decides to use carnival tricks instead to win back Oz.

They battle it out using scarecrows to lure the flying baboons into the poppy fields, and then a projector and fireworks to show that Oscar is really a Wizard with god-like powers. Unable to “kill” him, the sisters hide out in the castle, where they are defeated at last by Glinda. After the battle, Oscar sets up a projector so that his head can be projected at about the size of his ego, and he gives out his first gifts to his friends. To Glinda, he gives “the best one of all,” which is apparently a makeout session in the projector room (like he’s in high school drama).

I didn’t hate this movie. In fact, there were parts I quite liked. I loved how almost everyone but Theodora had smarmy Oscar’s number within about a minute of meeting him. I loved the set design and how beautiful everything looked. There were bits and pieces of that great Sam Raimi humor (complete with a Bruce Campbell cameo!). There were great references to the movie and book series, such as Theodora’s tears burning her. So why was this review so hard for me to write? It’s been a struggle because I wanted to love this movie so much, but it just fell flat.

In a way, it is a film much like Oscar Diggs. It wanted to set itself up as a heroic tale, with a person we could all fall in love with. It promised us something more from the series, something different than anything we have seen before, while still being respectful of us as an audience. And then it gave us a hero that was very hard to like, with a plot that was shallow instead of deep or interesting. It left me with the feeling of one of Oscar’s brunettes: wondering the next day what happened, why I felt so empty. I mean, the person I felt the most sorry for was the Wicked Witch of the West (and her inexplicable cleavage), which probably should never have happened outside of me reading Wicked for the millionth time.

There are about a gazillion L. Frank Baum books out there, all sitting pretty in the public domain. Stories that are time-tested and true, with a built-in audience included. And yet, this was picked to extend the franchise? What a misstep for Disney. I hope the next studio to tackle Oz gets it right.

– Sara Paige

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Incredible-Burt-Wonderstone

Review: THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (2013)

Story by: Chad Kultgen, Tyler Mitchell
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Directed by: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey
US Release Date: Friday, March 15, 2013

In Short: An amusing diversion, but nothing special.
Recommended: Yes, but only as a rental.

GRAY: It’s natural for a dying leaf to be frightened by the autumn wind.

Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) are aging magicians with a popular act on the Vegas strip. Despite being friends for decades, they are clearly growing irritated with each other. After a run-in with popular street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), the duo realizes they need to update their act. While Marvelton is willing to try something new, Wonderstone is a little more reluctant.

I could say more, but that would ruin any semblance of surprise The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has to offer. It follows along the path of so many movies that have come before it that even attempting to list them would be an exhausting and worthless ordeal. Sadly, this goes almost exactly for the film as well. From the look of the trailer, it looked like a fairly amusing tale of dueling magicians. But the filmmakers only use that idea when they have nothing else to fall back on. The rocky friendship between Wonderstone and Marvelton might have been the drive of the film, but it is only used and abused when it needs to be. There is a subplot involving an aging magician, Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), who helps inspire Wonderstone more than once. This idea is only used sparingly as well.

If you are confused just attempting to decipher all of those plot threads or trying to gain a sense of what the film is truly about, be prepared – there are at least three-four more ideas it uses that I have not described yet.

Writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley wrote the wildly enjoyable Horrible Bosses, which was two-thirds of a great movie (the last third was a total mess and unforgivably dropped Colin Farrell way too early on). But that film had a focus, and had a point. Here, there is next to no point, and focus seems to have been thrown out the window in exchange for a dozen different mashed-together storylines. It is not hard to follow, and is frequently very funny, but there is so much going on that it easily could have filled significantly more than the 100-minute running time. The film never seems content with developing any of its ideas at any instance, and with a weaker cast, it would have been a full blown disaster. Instead it merely languishes on-screen, struggling to find an identity that never comes to fruition.

Oh, and using Mind Rapist as the title of Gray’s shock television show? That’s really the best you can come up with?

Despite being the film’s lead, this ranks as one of Carell’s weakest performances to date. He seems to be simply going through the motions with Wonderstone, never really carving out any form of uniqueness for the character. His loud-mouth, pompous jackass attitude has practically become Carell’s go-to calling card, and here is just comes off stale and under-cooked. He gets a few hilarious moments here and there, but there is never any shred of reason to care about him or his plight. He lacks charisma, charm, and frankly looks like he could care less about anything that is taking place. We know he is better than this, and I am certain he knows it too.

Supporting-wise, the cast is a mixed bag. Buscemi and Arkin are hysterical when they get their moments, both playing the straight man to Carell. Their roles do not really call for them to do much but help Carell progress through the film, but they bring so much fun to the film that it saddens me the filmmakers did not think to give them more to do. Olivia Wilde as Wonderstone’s love interest Jane is likeable and amusing, but her role feels like it was added entirely after the script was written to spice things up. Delete her from the film, and nothing but eye candy would be missed. Even the usually stellar James Gandolfini seems to be suffering here, struggling to make his character work or even pretending to be funny.

The clear standout however is Carrey, who gives his most ludicrous performance in well over a decade. It is a vintage performance, and something I did not ever imagine him pulling off now. Watching him commit to such an asinine and ridiculous character made it genuinely feel like he was trying to channel his old work in the likes of Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber. His work here is so strong that it rises above every actor and almost every aspect of the film. Sadly, his performance goes criminally underused. Worse yet, the majority of his best lines and moments are in the trailer (minus the half-assed and forced satire of how the writers feel about “street magicians”). Rather thankfully, his few and far between moments on-screen deliver the most laughs.

While *The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not nearly as bad as you may have heard, it is not particularly great either. It is more than worthwhile as a harmless and diverting rental on a lazy evening, but it is not worth much else. It feels and looks lazy, and anyone giving any effort whatsoever seems to have been wasting their time. My only hope after seeing the film is that Carrey brings just as much strength to his role as Colonel Stars and Stripes in Kick-Ass 2. Then I will know this performance will not have been in vain.

– David Baldwin

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A Good Day to Die Hard

Review: A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013)

Written by: Skip Woods, Roderick Thorp
Directed by: John Moore
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch

In Short: Avoid if at all possible!
Recommended: Die first.

JOHN McCLANE: You wanna hug?
JOHN GENARRO: We’re not a hugging family.
JOHN McCLANE: Damn straight.

In case you’ve been on another planet since 1988, A Good Day To Die Hard is the fifth Bruce-Willis-as-New-York-cop-John-McClane movie. The same cop who in every one of the five movies just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or right place/right time) whenever there’s a worldwide nutcase psychopath bad guy planning a CNN-quality caper.

I won’t get into how this movie compares to Die Hards l and ll too much. They are my (and most people’s) favorites of the bunch. But I will say that when you compare the simple joy of the first movie to this, the fifth and hopefully last in the franchise, you wonder how they could have gone so wrong in keeping the character traits of everyone’s favorite cop cowboy exactly the same, never letting him evolve or learn a thing from film to film. Guess the writers have not read any “How To Love Yourself Even With All Your Faults” kinds of paperbacks.

To be fair I’d say it has been mostly the writing in the last three Die Hards that have doomed the franchise. I mean, Bruce Willis always looks ready to go and do whatever they want him to do in the script, but when we last left off In Die Hard 4 (or Live Free Or Die Hard –at least the titles are catchy), John McClane was taking on some young smart ass electronic and computer genius, but that was mixed in with all kinds of unnecessary crashes, explosions and ridiculous scenarios including the hovering of a state-of-the-art F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which in real life does not hover.

But let’s get away from that. Little did we know then that someone must have been setting us up for even more crashes, explosions and impossible and ridiculous scenarios for Die Hard 5 (or A Good Day to Die Hard. Yeah. Catchy.)

What really surprised me the most in this outing was that they did not even wait very long before the crashes and explosions started. In most remotely intelligent action movies, such things are placed in key part of the plot to keep the adrenaline pumping. I would hardly call the first 15 minutes of this movie key – or, for that matter, intelligent.

Here’s what goes down. John McClane is flying into Moscow on a passenger jet for a vacation. Why he chose Moscow is never explained, but before too long he ends up bumping into his son (Jai Courtney), who just happens to be a CIA operative (and who has taken his mother’s maiden name). It’s right about this time that the explosions and crashes start as McClane and son take on a ruthless Soviet gang who had something to do with stealing leftover uranium from Chernobyl. Real plausible right? Turns out that one of the Russian bad guys also was in prison for five years and somehow he managed to team up with another Russian heavy to plot this thing.

They end up turning on each other in the end, but by this point it doesn’t matter. You end up never really even coming close to understanding the motivation behind these villains’ evil deeds, nor do you care when they start trying to make it become a father-son movie. It just never works, and it’s so forced it makes a soap opera will-they-won’t-they look like the greatest love story ever told in comparison.

Of course there are plenty of typical John McClane liners throughout the entire movie and that’s probably about the most you can bank on to entertain you in this convoluted, backwards mess of a script. In the end, of course, the good guys win and John now has someone else beside him to look grungy with. That being his son, who by the way, never really convinced me as a CIA agent. Maybe if this hadn’t been a Bruce Willis movie, he would have.

In the final analysis, all I can say is that once again we the public have been duped by a nicely paid executive who signed off on this fifth installment, thinking that he could possibly squeeze another sequel out from a franchise that should have ended after the third movie.

– Jan LaFata

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Beautiful Creatures

Review: BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (2013)

Based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Written by: Richard LaGravenese
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson
US Release Date: February 14th, 2013

In Short: Ethan Wate’s quaint southern lifestyle is forever changed when a new girl with mysterious powers moves to town.
Recommended: Not really.

LENA: You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know who I really am inside. I don’t know who I’ll be.

As much as I love the growing trend of Young Adult novels making it to the big screen, Beautiful Creatures didn’t do much to leave an impression. Overtones about First Love and discovering who you really are during high school are nonstop, and not even remotely subtle. It’s true to the genre, sure, but doesn’t offer anything new or unexpected.

Diehard fans of this book series will likely enjoy seeing some of their favorite characters brought to life, although I’m still not convinced about the casting choices. Alden Ehrenreich plays the POV character of Ethan, and while he definitely has more than a pinch of Southern charm, it’s hard to see him as a high school student, frustrated with his lot in life. Alice Englert does make for a great Lena, though. She manages to be awkward and unsure, while still believable as someone who could grow into quite a bit of power. A few days after seeing the movie, I’m still not convinced of how believable the two of them are together, which probably isn’t a good sign.

There were a few noteworthy performances among the supporting cast, but it’s hard not to enjoy Emmy Rossum as Ridley Duchannes. She does pissed off so well, and somehow manages to get you to feel bad for her at the same time. Emma Thompson is also pretty fantastic, but that’s hardly a surprise.

For the first half of the movie, things follow the plot of the book fairly closely, although quite a few noteworthy scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. By the second half, things get all kinds of confusing, and I genuinely have no idea what the writers were trying to accomplish. If you’ve been holding off seeing the movie until you can read the book, don’t bother. The ending seems to have been written almost from scratch, and doesn’t really add much of anything to the overall story.

If you’re still unsure whether or not this is a movie worth seeing, I’d recommend giving it a pass for now. If you’re in the mood for some magic and teenage angst, you probably won’t find anything better suited to you in theatres this year.

– Kellie Sheridan

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Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters

Review: HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)

Written by: Tommy Wirkola
Directed by: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala

In Short: Hansel and Gretel live out their logical conclusion after the candy house incident.
Recommended: Yes – on DVD only.

HANSEL: One thing this job has taught me over the years: don’t eat the fucking candy.

Dear Hollywood,

Clearly, you have made it your mission to ensure that we can’t have nice things. Why can’t we have these things that are nice? Because you take movies with potential and then ruin them for me by destroying the only things in them that are interesting in your quest to throw around a lot of cool stuff that doesn’t work together and see if something sticks.

See, when I first saw that Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters was coming out, I was really excited. As a reviewer, you may know that I’ve done lots of reviews of re-imagined fairy tales and jump at the chance when given one. Some are really great, while others are more bland and uninspiring. Certainly, Disney has had more than one opportunity to enrage me. (Although you go by many names, don’t you?)

Promisingly, this movie starts out the same way as the fairy tale: Hansel and Gretel are left as children in the forest by their father and find a cottage made of candy where they encounter a witch who tries to cook them and eat them. Hansel and Gretel instead burn the witch to death in her own oven and escape the forest. Usually, the story ends right about there, but here this is where it begins, because after Hansel and Gretel come back they save another child caught by a witch, and then another. Before you know it, they’ve become famous witch bounty hunters who do it for the money and the lulz.

This is a great premise, Hollywood! And then here’s what you did with it:

Hansel and Gretel as adults (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) arrive in the town of Augsberg, which has seen witch kidnappings of a large amount of children. A woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala) has been accused of the kidnappings and witchcraft. Gretel insists that she’s innocent and Hansel confirms. They let Mina go, earning the ire of the sheriff who sends men into the forest to find the real witch before the siblings can get there. Unfortunately, the men run into the witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) who kills them all except the one that she allows to get back to town before he explodes as a warning to the others.

As the investigation continues, the duo find that the witches are due to celebrate the Blood Moon, which is a great witches’ Sabbath, and will require the sacrifice of twelve children. Just as Hansel and Gretel take action, Muriel and the witches attack the camp, scattering the siblings. To make an already long story less long, Hansel and Gretel reunite, learn secrets about their past, and battle a bunch of witches.

Why aren’t I more interested in providing a detailed synopsis? Mainly because this movie doesn’t really have much on plot, at least not enough to get all detailed about it. Witches, blood moon, eating hearts, yawn.

Hollywood, this movie gave me a pretty big sad. It had a great idea; a franchiseable idea, and it just fizzled like Pop Rocks in the rain. I wanted its goofy pre-steampunk Middle Ages to rock it out of the house. The costumes were great, the technology was pretty cool and really set the movie apart, and the setting was gorgeous. It had all these really great parts, but you just couldn’t make it come together. I usually hate it when movie critics point to the inexperience of the writer and director as a reason, because there are good people out there making good movies with limited experience, but in this case it was really obvious. It was like the director wanted all his favorite things in this movie, without looking at the story. In some article, he said that he couldn’t believe this movie even got made. Me either, dude. At least, not like this.

And as for the acting, the main actors could have used a little more. Jeremy Renner was supposed to be a charming, funny ladies’ man, and I hope to god that he just continues to be an emotionless soldier in the Bourne series because he just cannot pull it off. I don’t care how good he was in The Hurt Locker. While I liked Gemma Arterton, she could have had a bit more affect. Just because you’re a kickass bounty hunter, doesn’t mean you can’t have an emotion. And the worst part? They kill off not the boring main stars, but the only character that I found had an interesting backstory and that you, Hollywood, really could have done something with.

That’s not to say that there was nothing good here. I thought many of the deaths were really unique and original, not something I’ve often seen in horror movies before. I also liked some of the jokes, a few even got a laugh from me. I also liked the inclusion of the European actors, who really added to the charm, and acted their hearts out (well, in this movie, sometimes that was literally). The steampunk crowd will also get a kick out of the devices and technology used, as well as the costumes.

But get it together, Hollywood, and fix your business. Because the next time a movie comes by with the potential to be awesomesauce, maybe you won’t be so clearly drunk.

Keeping the (unearned) hope alive,

Sara

– Sara Paige

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Warm Bodies

Review: WARM BODIES (2013)

Based on the novel by Isaac Marion
Written by: Jonathan Levine
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry
US Release Date: Friday, February 1, 2013

In Short: This Romeo and Juliet adaptation follows a zombie as he falls in love with a human girl.
Recommended: Yes!

R: What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. I should get out more. I should eat better. My posture’s horrible. I should stand up straighter. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s ‘cause I’m dead.

Warm Bodies was one of my most anticipated 2013 films, and while it wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, it didn’t disappoint. This zombie-flick based on Isaac Marion’s novel manages to be both cute and romantic, while staying more-or-less within typical zombie genre conventions.

What I didn’t realize until it became blatantly obvious was the Romeo and Juliet origin of this story. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s hard to miss, as R (Nicholas Hoult) and Julie’s (Teresa Palmer) relationship comes together despite some hard to ignore differences in where they come from. That being said, I suggest ignoring everything you know about Shakespeare’s story until the credits are rolling.

The movie starts off with odd-ball zombie R contemplating un-life, not long before he meets a girl, and eats a brain that changes everything for him. Hoult makes for a pretty charming member of the undead population, and he’s easy to root for. His Juliet/Julie is a young woman living within a walled society designed to protect the surviving humans from the zombie population. Teresa Palmer falls into the role well, and I think she was a great choice for the character. She works well with Hoult, and watching Julie and R try to figure each other out is a big selling point for the movie.

The post-zombie virus society that has been developed for the movie is a bit simplistic, and there are some logical lapses throughout the movie that can be hard to ignore if you’re the type of moviegoer who prefers their characters to make decisions for reasons other than a plot point. You’ll be doing a bit of fist-shaking at the screen, but not enough to leave you wishing you’d just read the book instead.

Warm Bodies is worth seeing at some point, no matter what genre you usually lean towards. This new take on the zombie psyche is good for a few laughs, and it’s hard to hate on the warm and fuzzy moments, which never get overly cheesy. Although, if you’re hoping to see some skulls cracked open or throats ripped out, Warm Bodies isn’t going to do much for you. Go into it in a good mood and with an open mind and you’ve got nothing to lose.

– Kellie Sheridan

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All Superheroes Must Die

Review: ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE (2011)

AKA Vs.
Written by: Jason Trost
Directed by: Jason Trost
Starring: Jason Trost, Lucas Till, James Remar, Sophie Merkley, Lee Valmassy

In Short: It’s Mean Guns meets that Die Hard with Samuel L. Jackson in it – with superheroes.
Recommended: Yes, actually. A lot.

CHARGE: I have a plan. If he thinks I’m still playing, he won’t know what I’m doing.

“Written by, Directed by and Starring” can be some of the most terrifying words in film. Even Woody Allen, the poster boy for this kind of monomania, has happily lopped one of those off his resume lately. Add to this potentially disturbing scenario the fact that a) it is a low-budget indie and b) it has two titles, and I believe one would be justifiably trepidatious when embarking upon this film. This one certainly was.

A trepidation, as it turns out, that it did not deserve.

All Superheroes Must Die tells of a pretty familiar premise, or at least a mélange of familiar premises. Four costumed crime-fighters awaken disoriented, and with a mysterious bloody wound on their wrists. It turns out that they have all been set upon by their collective arch-nemesis, Rickshaw (James Remar), who has done something to drain them of their powers and has set up a “game” that these heroes must play, or allow innocent civilians to pay the price. Therefore Charge (Jason Trost), the leader of the team, alongside Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley) and The Wall (Lee Valmassy), must make a quick decision: jump through Rickshaw’s hoops in an attempt to prove themselves the heroes they so desperately want to be, or allow the hostages – all wired to remote explosives throughout their unnamed city – to die horribly.

What follows is a taut, well-paced, pretty decently acted and often surprising film of gritty suspense and suspect decisions, as Rickshaw’s carefully orchestrated scheme pits the superheroes against the clock, formidable foes and each other in order to try and save the day. Through flashbacks, we learn how these four came to this pass in the first place, how they were all just regular folks with some extraordinary abilities who somehow found themselves clad in lycra and face masks as defenders of justice, pretty much on a whim. The story could easily have played out as a Mary Sue fantasy in which Good overcomes Evil without breaking a sweat and the consequences of their hubris and folly would never have to be faced. Instead, Trost takes us on a tour of the darkest recesses of the human psyche, making it clear that self-sacrifice just isn’t as much in our nature as we might like to think it is.

Of the performances, Trost is the most forceful, and really quite excellent, though the very, very pretty Lucas Till, of X-Men: First Class fame, definitely makes his presence felt as his somewhat resentful sidekick, Cutthroat. (And really, what kind of name is that for a superhero? It sounds like a member of the Evil League of Evil, doesn’t it?) Remar is an actor many will recognize from all over the place – in fact, he was in X-Men: First Class too – and here does the craggy-faced, good-humored-but-menacing thing for which he is mostly known, and does it well. The remaining cast is serviceable enough, but really the focus of the movie is Trost’s Charge (real name: John) and his descent into anti-hero-dom, as well as the larger theme of what it really means to be a hero.

In all, All Superheroes Must Die came as a delightful surprise, and it’s great to see it with a theatrical release (even if a limited one) this month, what with it having hit the festival circuit as far back as 2011. Sure, the dialogue could have been a little punchier, some of the transitions are slightly clunky and many of the long silences could have used the services of a decent film composer, but on the whole – and especially considering the constraints of what was apparently a mere $20,000 budget – this film is a really impressive accomplishment, and speaks of big things ahead for its triple-threat writer/director/star.

– Rachel Hyland

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John Dies at the End

Review: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2012)

Based on the novel by David Wong
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown
US Release Date: Friday, January 25, 2013

In Short: Drugs are bad, kids. Or maybe good. Regardless, there will be bugs.
Recommended: Yes. Definitely. Maybe. Or not.

DAVID: I was adopted. I never knew my real dad. You could be my dad, for all I know. [pause] Are you my dad?

Occasionally you watch a movie and know instantly that it will, sooner or later, become a cult classic. John Dies at the End is just such a movie, a science fiction-y Napoleon Dynamite for this decade, full of one-liners and quirky characters and much hilarious oddity.

We begin with David Wong (Chase Williamson), a slacker who, when a surprised new acquaintance points out that he’s not Asian, says he changed his last name to Wong so that it would be harder for anyone to find him: “Did you know Wong is the most common name in the world?” He is telling his story to journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti), and quite the story it is.

It is a story of time travel, and communing with the dead, and alternate universes and lost time and monsters and strange omniscience and, oh yes, drugs. There is a new drug on the street, you see – its users know it as Soy Sauce – and it opens doorways in the brain that would perhaps better remain closed. In fact, it invites alien life forms into our reality where they consume us wholly, and also there are a lot of bugs everywhere, because nothing says forthcoming inter-dimensional conquest like icky, crawly things.

Dave’s friend John (Rob Mayes), who the title claims dies in the end – spoilers, much? – actually dies much earlier than that, but manages to stay in the game via cell phone calls from beyond the grave and such. The movie jumps all over the place, and throws just about every sci-fi trope imaginable at us, while at the same time managing to feel completely fresh, even when launching into a out-of-nowhere Monty Python-esque animation interlude. You spend much of the movie puzzling out exactly what is going on, and by the time you get the hang of it the movie is over. Then it hits you with a Sixth Sense-ian twist and quite the strangest, potentially most off-putting, epilogue ever, and you’re left somewhat dumbfounded by all that has come before. Mostly in a good way.

Yes, while assuredly not for everyone, John Dies at the End is a very fun, if more than a little perplexing, film. I have yet to read the webserial (later book) on which it was based, but perhaps the highest praise I can give the movie is that it made me immediately order a copy. I can’t imagine that it will be anywhere near as delightfully random as the film, but even if it’s only half as trippy, thought-provoking and flat out hilarious as its screen adaptation, I figure I am guaranteed a pretty good time.

– Rachel Hyland

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