ENJOY THE SHOW
Like Marv and the people in The Projects or the girls of Old Town, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is slumming it. The long-gestating sequel to Robert Rodriguez 's 2005 adaptation of the gritty and profane comic series from Frank Miller, you may be fooled into thinking it's more of the same, low-brow fun. You'd be wrong and probably a little disappointed. Sin City was a stylish and sadistic twist of the knife that laid its gallows humor on thicker than water. This one has the markings of a quality follow-up for fans of the first, it ultimately fails, its super serious attitude producing extremely dull results that border on tedium.
The Expendables 3 is so adorable you'd want to pinch its little cheeks if the average age of the crew weren't higher than 50. Once again lead by Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross it's a new mission, a new team, and a new attitude, or so the tagline for this latest film implies. That new attitude must have something to do with entertainment, since The Expendables 3, for its been-there-done-that narrative and paint-by-numbers action set-pieces, ends up as the most enjoyable. It's lighter than the previous two, and though the self-indulgence among the cast is at an all-time high, the genuine fun being had bleeds through.
Harry Potter was the spark that began the latest flame of movies based on young adult novels. The Twilight and The Hunger Games films have kept the sub-genre thriving at full potential, studios buying up properties left and right to get in on the mix. The latest of these, The Giver, is not the go-to novel for the big screen, at least not as much as wizards and vampires, and the results are good reasoning for that. The story comes preloaded with its message, which the film paints in broad strokes, and no amount of quality execution or solid performances (there's both) can get around the hokey and cliched subtext it provides.
"Ain't no thing like me, 'cept me." So says Rocket Racoon, a genetically modified racoon with a bad attitude and a fair point. The same can be said for the movie he's in, Guardians of the Galaxy, the cosmic superhero epic that continues the Marvel cinematic universe. For that matter, you can lay that dialogue and its meaning at the feet of the film's writer/director, James Gunn, who has spent his days since Troma delivering hard-edged horror and unbelievably cool superhero stories. This is his first chance at a big comic book story, and the sci-fi action, comedy extraveganza within Guardians of the Galaxy is cool, comical, and a cracking great time. One could almost be inclined to call it the best Marvel Studios film yet. More below!
Whether suiting up as Black Widow or luring oafish, young men to their otherworldly demise in Under the Skin, or wrangling Joaquin Phoenix with her voice alone in Her, Scarlett Johansson appears to be the ideal choice to play the next-level woman, a female character made supernatural with all the powers she beholds. So thank goodness writer/director Luc Besson has her front and center in Lucy, his latest sci-fi, evolutionary actioner that promises to blow your mind as well as your entertainment meter. Without Johansson, the film would slip by as pretty thin on both excitement and existentialism. Thankfully, Lucy doesn't fail in either department, but the frustration that the whole, messy ordeal leaves behind is far too noticable. Not quite as noticable as someone as stunning and talented as Johansson, but it's there. Read on!
Future sequel-makers in the horror field should pay attention to The Purge: Anarchy. The follow-up to last summer's dystopian action/thriller does so much more with what this franchise has been given by writer/director James DeMonaco. With The Purge, DeMonaco envisioned a new America, one with minimal unemployment and even lower crime rate. The annual Purge, 12 hours when all crime, including murder, is perfectly legal, satisfies the animalistic cravings of the population. The first film was a wasted opportunity, confining itself to a single home invasion and not even doing a very good job of it. Unlike the citizens of the Purged nation, moviegoers weren't satisfied, demanding much more from the cool premise.
"We're such little creatures. Poor humanity's so fragile, so weak. Little, little animals." So said Edward Chapman at the end of H.G. Wells' 1936 sci-fi, war, epic, Things to Come. Wells' animal reference in regards to human beings falls under both fact and metaphor. We are all animals, but something darker, more vicious, seems to always be growing at the heart of this humanity we call ourselves. It wouldn't be until 1968 that the animals or, in this case, apes would really take over the world. Planet of the Apes was a cultural phenomenon that I really don't need to tell you about, a shock-wave of a franchise that would only need a little time before it sprung into action once more. We never expected the franchise would return like this.
The saying goes that if you aim for the stars, you just might end up on the moon. Every so often, though, you hit those damn stars, and South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is no stranger to that level of achievement. He's never done it quite like this, though. His sci-fi epic Snowpiercer is a cinematic accomplishment that barrels its way down the rails of success through intelligent and exciting storytelling, an execution in set and atmosphere that surpasses even the most epic of Hollywood blockbusters, and a slew of top-notch, talent delivering wholly unforgettable performances. Snowpiercer is a masterpiece, rivalling even the best sci-fi in terms of scope and story, and that's saying nothing of its highly inventive conceit.
There's really not a lot that can be done with paranormal thrillers these days. With the recent slate of bland possession movies and the Paranormal Activity juggernaut annually dulling the bump-in-the-night brand of horror, it takes a certain angle at the sub-genre or a top-notch style of delivering the thrills for a film to really play in the haunted sandbox. Luckily, there are those entries that realize the ways in which to keep a fresh game in a stale ballpark, Deliver Us from Evil being the latest of these. Part gritty-NYPD procedural, part sinister-entity horror, the film nails every tone and hits every scare with results that should satisfy any and all downtrodden, horror fans. Thankfully, there are still films that can keep us up at night.
Some defense seems to be in order when it comes to Melissa McCarthy. Ever since she lit up audiences in Bridesmaids, the comedienne has been panned as much as praised, a byproduct of her overweight physicality and choice in taking more prat-fally types of roles. Just because she's an overweight actress does not mean that every joke she makes is a "fat joke," something she's especially getting nailed for with her latest comedy vehicle, Tammy. It's not a one-joke movie, but rather hardly a movie at all. Instead, the movie serves primarily as a showcase for the talents of McCarthy, hitting pratfall after pratfall, goofy gesture after goofy gesture. It can be funny, but the hollowness far outweighs the abundance of humor it serves up.
It was a humid, mid-80 degree night in Burnet, Texas this past Saturday. Crickets and mosquitos were out in full force as were the fair vendors who were set up in the small town's square. But they weren't alone this evening. The Alamo Drafthouse's inflatable, Rolling Roadshow was erected. The movie screening was Snowpiercer, South Korean director Bong Joon Ho's American debut, and the few hundred film lovers who spilled out of the steam train that pulled into the town from Austin were in for more than an exciting two hours of escapism. Like past Rolling Roadshows, the fine people at Drafthouse had an entire evening planned out: the train ride itself, the film, plenty of food and drink, a Q&A with the film's director, and even a surprise and unplanned intro. In a nutshell, it was like all Rolling Roadshow events, an absolute blast.
Pardon the pun, but Michael Bay is on cruise control now. At least that's the case with the Transformers franchise. The series of mega-budgeted, summer blockbusters were never going to win awards for excellence in storytelling. Beyond the explosions, mayhem, and people shouting "No" in machine-gun rapidity, there have hardly been stories to gel all the action together. That's what makes Bay's movies so up the alley of anyone looking for escapist fun. Unfortunately, not even the computer graphic carnage and epic scale destruction on display in the latest Transformers sequel, Age of Extinction, can keep the sloppy and lazy attitude into which this franchise has shifted from rearing its ugly, mechanized head.
As post-apocalyptic thrillers go, The Rover falls more in line with The Road than The Road Warrior. David Michôd’s follow-up to the intense crime drama, Animal Kingdom, is wrought with melancholic atmosphere and low on action-heavy narrative. More low simmer than slow-burn, its drama and action take too many stale side streets and not enough free-flowing highways. As its name implies, The Rover is a road movie, and Michôd creates his end-of-the-world scenario with all the dirt, flies, and gas-guzzlers you would expect in a film from Down Under. This is one road picture that despite heavy performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, has difficulty going anywhere but headlong towards its end credits.
Did you think DreamWorks Animation would fumble the ball with How to Train Your Dragon 2? The first movie was a smash success, arguably the best animated film of 2010 over Pixar's praised Toy Story 3. At the very least, it was an extremely close race for supremacy, and loads of anticipation fell in the sequel's court as soon as it was announced. The time has come, and though the sequel couldn't possibly have brought the surprise or wow factor of its predecessor, it brings so much more that makes up for it. There's laughs, thrills, and heart of all shapes and sizes. It doesn't rest on just being a kiddie-pleaser and instead brings top-notch storytelling together with impeccable animation that only seems to be getting better and better.