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Even with middle-of-the-road reviews and decent box office, a sequel to 300 always seemed inevitable. The art of Frank Miller's comic book brought to cinematic life by director Zack Snyder with all the slow motion and speed ramping he could muster seemed justified enough for a follow-up. That sequel is 300: Rise of an Empire, and though Snyder isn’t sitting in the director’s chair this time around, the trademark look and feel of his 300 is present in every frame. That’s not all. Despite the familiar look, and the all-too familiar narrative points we have to go back over, 300: Rise of an Empire also has a familiar way of kicking the audience’s ass, loading the screen with epic battles brought to life this time around with the very best in digital effects hard at work. That’s to say nothing of the awesome villainy on display from Eva Green.
You’ve got to hand it to Liam Neeson. The guy knows precisely on which side his bread is buttered. Since rising to Stallone-level status in the action world, Neeson has been on a tear, dropping into plenty of action films, only worried about the punching and kicking. The same goes for Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of Neeson’s latest actioner, Non-Stop. Despite a resolution that makes the mystery that came before it that much dumber, the film delivers top-notch action, giving us exactly what we’ve come to expect from the collaboration that gave us Unknown last year. At the very least, Non-Stop’s premise and the fury from some solid moments of suspense keep it from being just another forgettable entry on Neeson's action resumé.
It's hard to call Pompeii a success, at least from a story perspective. Granted, the tale of the ancient Roman city that was demolished in 79AD when the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted has never been told in big-budget, cinematic form. As far as disaster epics go, the film hits all the melodramatic, high-end special effect notes with accuracy. However, it's the story wrapped around that successful disaster picture that is derivative and loaded with cliche. The obvious formula is Titanic meets Gladiator with that fiery, erupting volcano filling in for the iceberg, and while the intensity levels rise with all the liquid, hot magma of excitement, it all comes across as weighty as a pile of ash. Pompeii may be a cinematic achievement for the senses, but any lasting impressions it could leave instnatly begin and end with how impressive it looks.
Don't be fooled into laying a false sense of infallibility to the RoboCop franchise. Two dreadful sequels and a short-lived TV series that was even worse - not to mention the WCW Wrestling appearance and Japanese chicken endorsement - makes it so that a remake is not the worst thing imaginable for the half-man/half-machine/all-cop character. But any forewarning is moot when it comes to the RoboCop remake, a noticeably tamer but still entertaining take on the story that, despite its dip into idiocy, still makes an attempt at the satirical subtext that places the original film in such high regard. Like the character, the film is clunky, but when all its pieces are in motion, it's a more enjoyable thrill than this series possibly deserves. More below!
There has to be more to a war film than a unique tale, true or not, and a handful of gifted actors behind it. These elements can carry a war film so far, and it's a pretty obvious rule that the talents behind the World War II epic, The Monuments Men, seem not to understand. Uniqueness in plot and a slate of actors who always hold your interest are a few of the cards in the film's hand, but the other cards don't have much value. Corny, episodic, and melodramatic, The Monuments Men is an admirable story told with the subtlety of a Hollywood chainsaw, and a half-baked presentation that's not even preferable to The History Channel
Jason Reitman is a filmmaker in love with relationships. Whether its a young pregnant woman's relationship with the couple who will adopt her unborn child or the relationship between a young adult writer and the people that she utterly despises, these connections are the driving force behind his films' respective emotions. Labor Day, his latest, is right in line with the rest. In terms of the driving force, that is. The results are varied, but a pair of powerhouse performances keeps Labor Day from being the too-simple-with-too-much-saccharine film it threatens to be. Trashy at times, very messy at others, it's a bag of mixed results, all the while wanting nothing more than to have tears streaming down your face. Read on!
There is a wealth of story in the collection of Tom Clancy novels featuring his number one lead, Jack Ryan. Some of film’s best espionage stories star the CIA analyst-turned-field-agent. Yet, the output these novels have given the film world has just as many misses as hits, and those misses are getting wider off the mark. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is Hollywood’s latest attempt at turning the character into a franchise name, and its tame, formulaic, and dulled results mark the weakest Jack Ryan adventure the character has seen to date. At least it’s loud and fast, which may fool some into thinking there’s some substance. Read on!
It's awesome the amount of brawn is working over brain in The Legend of Hercules, the latest sword-and-sandals actioner - Sure, that's still a genre - which just so happens to be directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight). Harlin is a man who made similarly brawn-over-brain actioners all through the 1990's, movies which hit that awesome meter pretty much throughout. Now he makes WWE movies. Unfortunately what hobbles the enjoyment in The Legend of Hercules is not the action, but how awkwardly and lazily the movie rips off other, better films. It's just a lame knockoff of 300, Gladiator, and Braveheart, and no amount of chest meat Kellan Lutz puffs out can distract us from that. More below!
The Paranormal Activity franchise is so unstoppable, it couldn't even be controlled with one storyline. With Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the series heads off in a somewhat different direction, introducing new characters to video record and contend with the demons, curses, and witches that have sprung up thus far. The simplicity of this series has long been exercised and The Marked Ones isn't particularly inventive either in the way it builds, sets up, and pays off its individual scares. There is some craziness, including one wacky addition that will shake up the whole series, but it's difficult getting around how run-of-the-mill everything feels. At least there's hope for the future of this once-cool horror franchise.
In terms of music in film, 2013 was allover the map. Sure, the summer blockbusters still had their giant, action scores, and the romantic comedies had their coffeehouse music. But the diamonds in the rough eventually presented themselves. This year found some fine filmmakers putting together some equally fine collections of music and song; those albums you can go back to time and time again and be transported back into the theater the first time you experienced it. These are the soundtracks that years from now, we'll be replaying, wearing out, and finding new copies of in used record stores (if they're still around). You may just save them in your iBrain in the future. Anyway, we count down the 10 Best Soundtracks/Scores below!
It's nearly impossible to argue against the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, as the best filmmakers working in America today, and the case can be and has been made that they are the greatest today period. Every time they take a swing at intriguing stories, fascinating characters, and breathtaking cinematic execution, they hit it clearly out of the park. This is especially the case since the brothers hit their storytelling stride a few years ago adapting Cormac McCarthy. Inside Llewyn Davis, their latest, may not rank next to No Country for Old Men or True Grit, another adaptation the brothers nailed. Yet, it's a testament to the care and precision Joel and Ethan Coen strive for - and achieve - at nearly every turn.
In 1964 Walt Disney brought magic to the silver screen with Mary Poppins, a wondrous story that has been fascinating and awing film lovers for nearly 50 years. But it wasn't quite as breezy a task getting that film adapted from P.L. Travers' original, 1934 novel. Saving Mr. Banks tells that story in what is undoubtedly a Disney package. It's light, bubbly, and brings out enough sentimentality to fill ten Disney filmographies, certainly a dose of medicine that goes down better with a grain, or spoonful, of salt. Yet, with a pair of outstanding performances leading the emotional way, there's magic to find, perhaps as much as there is to find in Mary Poppins. Accurate or not, the legend it tells absolutely warms the heart and wets the eyes.
For a movie lover to list their 100 favorite films is a daunting task. Choosing 100 films to live with for the rest of your life and no others? Most couldn't even be certain of their favorite film. But that very task was set on the programmers at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, the theater chain notorious for its collective passion of cinema. Those programmers, as well as Drafthouse CEO and founder Tim League, put their individual lists of 100 films together, and from that list, the "Alamo 100" was born. That's 100 films, listed in no particular order, that League and his crew of programmers feel are essentials, the best in motion pictures.
The ballad of Bilbo Baggins continues in The Desolation of Smaug, director Peter Jackson's second of three films in his adaptation of The Hobbit. After five films spanning 12 years, Jackson's take on J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth is as elaborate as ever, more so given those 12 years in filmmaking technologies and their development. Jackson's world is pretty, vibrant, covered in all the colors imaginable and even a few more. It's enough to enrapture even the most cynical viewer with all the Elvish, Dwarvish, and Hobbitish excitement going on. But a passion has disappeared from revisiting Jackson's take on this world, and when the adventures this time around pass by, the emptiness they leave behind speaks volumes. More below!