- Your Voice
Many adults complain that today’s youth is dominated by video games and iPads. But no matter how advanced technology becomes, Lego will always be there to provide the building blocks for good, old-fashion fun. Every Lego box is a treasure chest of infinite possibilities, allowing us to construct castles, cars, and entire cities. Lego has fueled our imaginations ever since 1949. Sixty-five years and 560 billion Lego pieces later, we get “The Lego Movie.”
Everyone had reservations when it was announced Peter Jackson would be splitting up “The Hobbit” into a trilogy. Do we really need three separate movies? Can’t this 300-page book be done in one movie? Isn’t this just a ploy to milk a franchise and make an extra couple billion dollars? When “An Unexpected Journey” finally came out last December, we all found that these initial concerns were pretty much spot-on.
You can probably tell whether you’re going to enjoy “All is Lost” based on the film’s synopsis. Robert Redford plays a sailor on a voyage somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Without any exposition or explanation, he wakes up one morning to find that his yacht has crashed into a shipping container. The sailor has no way to contact help and little means of navigation. Even though the sailor manages to patch the hole up, his boat won’t last long with hazardous weather conditions on the horizon.
Seven years ago, Director Paul Greengrass gave us “United 93.” Greengrass’ vision was bold and pulled no punches, easily making it the best post-9/11 film to date. Everything Greengrass brought to the table in “United 93” is displayed in “Captain Phillips.” This is another intensely shot, authentically edited true story about ordinary people forced to step up during a catastrophe. Is it the masterpiece that “United 93” was? Not quite, but that’s a really tough act to beat.
Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” just might have the most horrifying premise in all of movies. There are several other strong contenders like “Buried,” in which Ryan Reynolds was trapped in a coffin underground, and “127 Hours,” where James Franco was stuck between a rock and a hard place. But honestly, what’s scarier than being stranded in space with limited air and no communication with Earth? Going to outer space is in itself a fairly scary thought. The notion of anything going wrong up there is the worst nightmare imaginable. As the tagline to “Alien” says, in space no one can hear you scream.
In “Prisoners,” Director Denis Villeneuve is allowed the privilege few lesser known filmmakers have these days: The chance to not only make a multimillion-dollar American movie with A-list actors, but to also see his vision to the end. It would have been easy for the studio to step in and dumb this material down to another Hollywood thriller. Watching the film, you feel nothing short of grateful that the project was helmed by Villeneuve, whose “Incendies” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Give him an intelligent script by Aaron Guzikowski in addition to a faultless cast, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the most distinctive crime dramas since “Mystic River.”
Typically whenever a movie succumbs to the redundant car chase, it means that the screenwriter officially ran out of story to tell. It’s clear that the people behind “Getaway” never had any story to start with, as the entire film plays out like an extended car chase from its opening scene to its ridiculous ending.
If “Bridesmaids” was the female version of “The Hangover,” then “The To Do List” could be considered the female version of “American Pie.” You could also call it the female version of “Superbad,” the raunchier version of “Easy A,” or the 1990s version of “Sixteen Candles.”
You ever hear the saying, “This is about as much fun as watching snails race?” Well “Turbo,” the latest flick from DreamWorks Animation, is literally about a racing snail. It’s also about as fascinating as watching paint dry or watching grass grow. Sitting in the theater, you never feel like you’re observing an animated feature from the edgy, satirical, pop-culture savvy folks at DreamWorks. You feel like you’re watching a cartoon with a thin premise on Nickelodeon. In other words, save your time, save your money, and stream it for the kids when it’s on Netflix in several months.
After the first trailer premiered several months ago, “Pacific Rim” quickly became one of the most anticipated movies of the summer season. The advertisements haven’t divulged much about the film’s plot or characters. For the most part, they’ve only shown big monsters fighting big robots and Idris Elba giving a heated speech to his troops. That’s still more than enough to make any fanboy swoon like a teenage girl watching “Twilight.”
When Osama bin Laden was assassinated, it felt like the War on Terror’s big climax. The enemy was defeated, America rejoiced, and a bright new day was born. Two years later, troops are still in the Middle East, lives are still being lost, and undisclosed wars are still taking place right under our noses. It’s a war without an end. That’s one of the many sad truths explored in “Dirty Wars,” a documentary that’s significant, admirable, and occasionally shocking, although never really profound.
I, for one, am officially fed up with movies about zombie outbreaks, mutant outbreaks, virus outbreaks, and outbreaks in general. To be fair, the end of the world/global epidemic genre can still be done well. The best recent example actually isn’t a movie, but “The Walking Dead: The Game,” which packed in more drama, thrills and heartfelt character development than the AMC TV show of the same name. Such compelling characters and genuine terror are missing from “World War Z.” It’s surprisingly hollow, surprisingly bland, and, most unforgivable of all, surprisingly boring.
There’s no denying that Richard Donner set the bar for the Superman franchise with his 1978 film. The icy landscapes of Planet Krypton, John Williams’ vigorous musical score, Christopher Reeve’s iconic performance - every aspect of Donner’s movie remains definitive.
Whether you had parents that were distant or parents that were overbearing, we all likely dreamed about running away from home while growing up. These unrealistic fantasies likely involved hitting the road with one or two good friends and building a safe haven somewhere in the wildness. Naturally, we all quickly woke up from this daydream, realizing that we’d never make it on our own. “The Kings of Summer” exists in an offbeat world fueled by our youthful daydreams. The end product is funny and quirky, but also wise and nostalgic with something meaningful to say about coming of age.
Most of the ads for “After Earth” have neglected to mention that M. Night Shyamalan co-wrote and directed the film. Movie studios finally seem to be realizing that having Shyamalan’s name plastered above the title will no longer sell tickets.
If you grew up in the early 90s, you probably remember an animated feature from 20th Century Fox called “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” It was the environmentally conscious movie every 90s kid saw and, yet, nobody really liked. The film’s intentions might have been good, but even the youngest children seemed to find its blatant “green” message overly preachy. The fact that “FernGully” was lacking in any interesting characters or magic didn’t help.
On paper, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” is one of those movies that should have crashed and burned. A reboot of a beloved franchise with younger, lesser-known actors stepping into the shoes of an iconic cast of characters. The fact that Abrams went on record stating that he was never a huge “Star Trek” fan didn’t bode well either. Against all odds, though, Abrams not only produced a great “Star Trek” picture, but quite possibly the best “Star Trek” ever made. That’s right, even better than “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Even though “The Great Gatsby” has gotten the movie treatment several times in the past, no film adaptation has ever really stood out as the definitive version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel. Director Baz Luhrmann’s film is certainly the most visually arresting interpretation of “The Great Gatsby” ever produced. Catherine Martin, who previously worked with Luhrmann on “Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Australia,” deserves multiple Oscar nominations for her hyper sets and eye-popping costumes. As wonderful as Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” is to look at, the enchanting visuals are also ironically the movie’s downfall. In the midst of the art direction, costumes, and music, the story and characters that made Fitzgerald’s book a classic, become a mere afterthought.
Along with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Iron Man 3” is one of the rare superhero threequels that doesn’t disappoint. While Jon Favreau remains an executive producer and co-star, he passes on the directorial duties to Shane Black of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Black maintains all the action, humor, and character development that made Faverau’s first two films so enjoyable, while also incorporating his own unique signature.
"Oblivion” is another movie that seems better suited for a video game than a motion picture. Watching the characters engage in endless shoot outs and explore vast, abandoned terrains, all you want to do is get your hands on a controller. Since a movie is unequipped with game play, though, you’re forced to sit back and merely observe the story. Then again, most modern video games have more three-dimensional characters and smarter plots than “Oblivion.” This science fiction mystery from director Joseph Kosinski isn’t completely without some good ideas, elevating it above “Transformers” schlock. It’s just unfortunate those ideas never meld into anything that intriguing.
Just about all the actors in “The Big Wedding” are severely typecast. Diane Keaton is a high-strung, divorced mother like in “Something’s Gotta Give,” Robert De Niro is the father of somebody getting married like in “Meet the Fockers,” Amanda Seyfried is a blushing bride like in “Mamma Mia,” Robin Williams is an eccentric minister like in “License to Wed,” Topher Grace is a deadpan, quick-witted nice guy like in “That ‘70s Show,” and Katherine Heigl is a needy single woman like in every movie she does. Even though the actors are in their comfort zones, not a single person feels natural in “The Big Wedding.” That’s probably because the film doesn’t understand its own characters or their motivations. Nobody behind the camera has any idea what they’re doing, resulting in one of the most awkward romantic comedies of recent memory.
“42” is far from the first movie to explore racial tensions in sports. We’ve seen this subject depicted in other good films like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road.” There are plenty of recognizable figures on display here, such as the underdog nobody believed in, the one man willing to take a chance on that underdog, and the ignorant antagonists that wish to see that underdog fail. Familiarity aside, though, “42” executes just about everything wonderfully. This is a good-hearted picture, carried by sincere performances and passionate direction. Not only is it an inspiring story about overcoming prejudice, but an all around rousing baseball movie too.
Although it’s not much, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” really deserves credit where credit’s due. Its 2009 predecessor was one of the dumbest action movies of the past 10 years. In this sequel, director Jon M. Chu of those “Step Up” movies makes an attempt to incorporate some humor, creative action sequences, and impressive visuals. That doesn’t mean “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is a good movie, but at least it’s an improvement. The film could have gone down the route of the “Transformers” series, which only got worse with every entry.
Anyone who saw “Scream 4” likely remembers the scene where Hayden Panettiere lists off every horror remake to come out in the past decade, from “Halloween” to “Friday the 13th.” So many of these remakes failed due to a lack of passion on the filmmaker’s behalf. Making a good movie was only their second priority, right after cashing in on an exhausted franchise’s good name. The new “Evil Dead” movie is the rare exception. It’s obvious that Director/Screenwriter Fede Alvarez has great admiration for Sam Raimi’s beloved cult classic. Along with Co-Writers Diablo Cody and Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez produces the best contemporary “Evil Dead” movie possible.
DreamWorks Animation has always strived to tell stories that can appeal to all ages. Their latest animated comedy, “The Croods,” will surely be enjoyed by anybody who is younger than 10. Unlike “Shrek” and “Kung-Fu Panda” though, it lacks the wit and innovation for older audiences. Compared to most Saturday morning cartoons, the film won’t passionately annoy parents that get dragged to the theater. But in an era where more and more adults are attending animated features without accompanying children, “The Croods” feels like a step backwards for DreamWorks.
‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” starts off with a recipe for grade-A comedy. The cast includes names such as Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini and Jim Carrey. The director is Don Scardino of “30 Rock,” while Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis of “Horrible Bosses” penned the screenplay. The premise regarding rivaling magicians offers endless comedic possibilities. So how is it that the final product is just mediocre? It’s probably because the audience has to be constantly caught off guard in order for a magic show or comedy to succeed. In “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” the audience can pretty much predict everything that’s going to happen. This subtracts the elements of surprise and humor from the equation.
Remember how Director Todd Phillips just half-heartedly remade “The Hangover” in “The Hangover Part II?” Remember how lethargic, lame, and tedious it felt having to sit through the same movie over again with fewer laughs? That’s the best way to describe “21 and Over.” The film marks the directorial debut of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writing team behind the original “Hangover.” They’ve basically recycled their smash hit comedy beat for beat. Where “The Hangover Part II” at least had three laugh-out-loud moments though, there’s nothing even remotely funny in “21 and Over.” It’s a comedic dead zone from its opening scene all the way through.
In recent years, there have been some really good Oscar hosts like Hugh Jackman, some acceptable hosts like John Stewart, some disappointing hosts like Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin, and some flat-out horrendous hosts like James Franco & Anne Hathaway. Despite the best efforts of some, none have come close to capturing the same wit, timing, and showmanship of reoccurring hosts like Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, or Billy Crystal. At the 85th Annual Academy Awards ceremony however, Seth MacFarlane of “Ted” and “Family Guy” emerged as the single most entertaining first-time Oscar host of the 21st century.
In the same vein of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye,” Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima” has evolved into one of the most widely beloved and challenged books of all time. In some high schools this best-selling Chicano novel is considered a mandatory reading. Other schools have banished the book for its use of profanity, references to witchcraft, and religious themes. For anyone with an open mind, “Bless Me, Ultima” is certainly an enriching read-through about acceptance, family, faith, culture, and independence. The charm of Anaya’s novel sadly doesn’t shine through this adaptation by Carl Franklin, which gets bogged down by wooden performance and insipid direction.
Where everyone else spent most of last January debating which team would be victorious at Super Bowl XLVII, I was busy trying to predict which movies would win big at the 85th annual Academy Awards. In many respects, the Oscars feel like a sporting event as nominees tirelessly campaign to win and award analyzers place bets on which horse will cross the finish line.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” marks the fifth entry to the “Die Hard” franchise and the third film to come out in the last two months about an ass kicking senior citizen. The original “Die Hard” is a definitive action picture that can still make audiences cheer even after multiple viewings. Whether you love or hate “Die Hard 2” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” pretty much everyone can agree that John McClane made a welcome return in the sensational “Live Free or Die Hard” a few years ago. The previous “Die Hard” got just about everything right from the absurdly insane stunts, to the humorous dialog, to Bruce Willis’ committed performance. “A Good Day to Die Hard” has just enough fun moments for die-hard fans to take a gander. Regrettably, it remains the least impressive outing of this series.
After “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook,” “The Last Song,” “The Lucky One,” and “Dear John,” Nicholas Sparks is obviously running a campaign to become president of sappiness. His novels have inspired a number of hokey adaptations chock-full of one-dimensional archetypes and scenes ripped off from other romances. This guy loves seeing people get caught in the rain more than Michael Bay marvels at the sight of explosions. The latest picture from the novelist turned producer, “Safe Haven,” is every bit as cheesy and mushy as one would expect. It’s about as original as a Lifetime movie designed to brazenly manipulate our emotions. Maybe I’m becoming easier to manipulate, but this melodramatic cornball kept me completely invested from beginning to end.
Zombies are terrible characters. That’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of good movies featuring zombies like “28 Days Later,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “Zombieland,” and the George A. Romero classics.
The Oscar season is customarily kicked off by the Academy president and a random star solemnly announcing the nominees in a drab ceremony. The Academy decided to shake up tradition this year, however, in one of the most cheerful Oscar mornings we’ve ever had. Seth MacFarlane, director of “Ted” and this year’s Oscar host, announced the nominees Thursday morning alongside the invaluable Emma Stone, who had the funniest bit at last year’s Oscar ceremony. MacFarlane and Stone made for an outstanding duo, engaging in playful banter about each of the categories. Even when one of their jokes didn’t quite hit the mark, MacFarlane and Stone still looked like they were having a genuine ball on stage. That’s more than can be said about Anne Hathaway and James Franco when they hosted the Oscars two years ago.
In the eight years I’ve taken on the regular duty of reviewing movies, 2012 just might have been the best.
Simplistically cartoonish and even pulpier than “Pulp Fiction,” “Gangster Squad” won’t be remembered as one of the crime genre’s great cinematic outings. In all fairness though, the film isn’t trying to be the next “L.A. Confidential.”
In what’s been an otherwise tremendous year for movies, 2012 still brought us quite a few stinkers nevertheless. One general question film critics are asked is how they feel when ripping a movie apart. It may sound mean-spirited and arrogant to criticize a movie that a lot of people invested their time and money into. Anybody that has endured the 10 movies listed below however can understand that such criticisms are justified.
“Les Misérables” has had a long, arduous journey to the silver screen. It’s been in the works for so long that at one point the film was going to be directed by the now retired Alan Parker, who made the original “Fame” and 1996 adaptation of “Evita.” After decades of rotting in development limbo, the cherished musical finally sees the light of day via the artistic eye of director Tom Hooper of “The King’s Speech. Hooper’s interpretation of “Les Misérables” is a majestic experience composed of enormous sets, elegant costumes, and pitch perfect performances from the entire ensemble. This may very well be the most triumphant movie musical since the genre made a comeback a decade ago with “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago.”
Billy Crystal proved earlier this year that he’s still more than capable of hosting an Oscar telecast. The question that remains is whether or not the 64-year-old comedic legend still has what it takes to carry a feature-length film.
Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson” often feels like two separate movies. One film is about Franklin Roosevelt’s love affair with his sixth cousin. The other is about King George VI and his first visit to the United States. The problem is that “Hyde Park on Hudson” can never decide which of these stories is supposed to be the A plot and which is the B plot. The narrative as a whole thus suffers with neither storyline meeting its full potential. The fact that the film centers on several fascinating real-life individuals only makes the results more disappointing.
While “Knocked Up” established Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl as major movie stars, it was Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd who stole the entire show. Rogan and Heigl’s characters are nowhere to be found in the sort-of sequel to “Knocked Up.”
“Killing Them Softly” is about as far away from a feel-good movie that you’ll likely get this year. Relentlessly violent and candidly cynical in tone, this is easily among the angriest cinematic representations of 21st century America. But beyond its precipitous bleakness, does the film at least leave us with an encouraging, hopeful message? Nope, there’s no light at the end of this tunnel here. It’s just utter darkness from start to finish.