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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!
As the title suggests, Out of the Furnace isn't exactly full of happiness and rainbows. Scott Cooper injects his film with all the grit and dirt the writer/director can muster, a general sweep of grey cast over the proceedings of his story. That story is long-winded yet short on substance, but the filmmaker follows his debut, Crazy Heat, with similar atmosphere and some outright commanding performances that could easily slide in next to the best of the year. Led by The Dark Knight Trilogy star Christian Bale, the cast works its magic under Cooper's direction, and though Out of the Furnace itself becomes something of a bleak but beautiful slog to get through, it is the sum total of those performances that makes it worthwhile. Read on!
When a remake of the South Korean film Oldboy was announced, it was a worst-nightmare scenario for fans. The thought that an American director would remake it for English-speaking audiences, shocking twists and all, was too much to handle. Those fears were subdued when Spike Lee signed on to direct. Lee isn't one of the best directors working today, but there's no denying the man has a very strong voice. Oldboy, through his eyes, was sure to be something exciting and fresh, regardless how many twists and/or turns carried over in the screenplay. Unfortunately, "exciting and fresh" turned into "hollow and awkward" somewhere along the way, and the Oldboy remake we're given ends up being an total mess. More below!
Homefront is the latest actioner for Jason Statham, the reigning champ of the action genre, but the role was intended for a former title-holder. Sylvester Stallone adapted the screenplay for himself, and if you're familiar with Sly's work when he puts pen to paper, you'll recognize Homefront for the '80s-style, eye-roller of excitement that it is. The movie is exciting, thanks in large part to a capable director, but that and Statham's charm aside, Homefront fumbles the ball far too many times on hackneyed dialogue, cringe-inducing drama, and a James Franco performance out of the golden era of action. And not in a good way.
When it comes to movie franchises, particularly those of the "three and done" variety, the odds are ever in the second film's favor. These films are typically darker, larger in scale, and the filmmakers behind them jump at the bit to craft a perfect setup for the trilogy's conclusion. These are all aspects The Hunger Games: Catching Fire wears, one badge of honor on its collective chest after another. Based on the novels by Suzanne Collins, the film serves as a smooth, beautiful, and epic transition from the clunky adaptation of the first novel to a hopefully explosive finale in Mockingjay. If nothing else, there will be fire.
Despite being overshadowed by The Avengers, the first Thor is still considered a bit of a misstep in Marvel's universe. Lame humor, a lack of scope, and odd pacing kept the beautiful images and interesting characters at bay from our interests. It's as if the filmmakers behind Thor: The Dark World had a list of items they were determined to get right this time around, because the sequel is everything the first Thor was not and more. It's appropriately funny, has an incredible sense of scope, and a nice pace that goes a long way this time, especially when the imagery and characters are just as strong as before. In fact, they're even stronger.
Nearly 30 years after Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" began its quest towards sci-fi classic status, the film adaptation has finally been made. It's been an arduous trek for the project, one that's started and stalled a number of times, but it evidently took fans of the novel to grow up and begin making movies before the cinematic version could be done right. Ender's Game may not be a perfect adaptation of Card's novel. It moves with a haste that screams "adaptation of a larger work," but the film as is is quite stunning. Aided by superb performances and some of the very best digital effects seen in recent years, Ender's Game may not be an ideal adaptation, but it's hard in this age of Hollywood product not to admire what they've done.
“My God, that’s a massive set,” I thought to myself as the small band of journalists in which I was included was led through the command centers and alien walkways making up the set of the sci-fi epic, Ender’s Game. Summit Entertainment and writer/director Gavin Hood have done the unthinkable, braving Orson Scott Card’s “unadaptable” work that has kept audiences young and old engrossed for nearly 30 years. A novel this grand with a history this dense demands a certain level of scope, and just from the first glimpse of the magnificent sets they had to show us, that required scope has absolutely been achieved.
On paper, The Counselor sounds like an excellent idea. Another story about blood-soaked drug money written by No Country For Old Men novelist Cormac McCarthy, the author's first work written for the screen. Direction from a man who knows how to make violent images pop with stylized beauty, that being Ridley Scott. Add a stellar cast filling extremely eccentric roles, and you have a recipe for a bleak masterpiece. Who knew McCarthy would be the weakest in this package? The style of the images and impact of the acting can only take the film so far, and it ends up being an aimless, often convoluted dumpster fire of ideas that makes one wonder if the author's works aren't best as adaptation when it comes to the cinema.
Like the promise of Godzilla Vs. King Kong or, hell, even Freddy Vs. Jason, Sylvester Stallone teaming up with Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a long-gestating action junkies dream. The Expendables and sequel sated that appetite a bit, but the inevitable, full-throttle, buddy action movie boasting the two of them in dueling lead roles could not have come soon enough. That film is finally here, and Escape Plan, for all of its strengths and weaknesses, is precisely the Stallone/Schwarzenegger tug-of-war is expected to be. Lumbering, heavy on the action in the back-half, and ponderous in the amount of quips these action stars can bounce off of each other, it's the epitome of getting what you wish for, whether you like it or not.
Stephen King's 1974 novel "Carrie," the author's first published, caused an ensuing avalanche in the horror world. The landscapes of horror fiction on both bookshelves and in theaters was forever changed. It was only a matter of time before the senseless remakes began down the assembly line. Coming 37 years after the Brian De Palma-directed debut of King's source material to the big screen, Carrie has once again been adapted to film, and the results are predictable. Despite a strong showing from its two leads, this new version of Carrie is a lazy retread of King's original story, retold without a shred of creativity or new blood refreshing the atmosphere surrounding it. It's now become a thing that just kind of goes "Meh" in the night.
At this point you don't need me explaining the awesomeness, beauty, and heart-pounding intensity at work in Gravity. The latest film from masterful director Alfonso Cuarón has been generating tons of buzz, most of it falling into the consensus that Gravity is all of the above, and it's easy to fall into hyperbole with an event picture like this. That isn't keeping the hype from being 100% accurate, as Gravity mesmerizes at every turn in story, development of character, and the impeccably executed shot that makes it not only a most suspenseful and moving experience, but also a visual achievement unlike anything we've seen before.
Keanu Reeves knows Tai Chi, and, as evidenced by the appropriately titled Man of Tai Chi, the man's directorial debut, he knows it well. What a flurry with which to come out swinging right off the bat. Man of Tai Chi suffers, a lot, from the random cheesiness and ankle-deep script at work, and there is so much about the film that simply should not work. All that is easy to discard, however, when you consider just how kickass the action bouncing before your eyes truly is. Reeves has a keen eye for action and not much else, but Man of Tai Chi has a job to do, a very specific job; at what it aims, it absolutely has pinpoint precision. It almost makes you wonder what Reeves might do with the rest of all that Kung Fu he learned so long ago.
Two genres get a recharge in Derek Lee and Clif Prowse's Afflicted, the latest found footage monster movie that might have some, age-old fans of the genre rolling their eyes. It takes a lot to kick a found footage movie into the land of creativity, and, fortunately, there are filmmakers like Lee and Prowse still out there waiting to impress us. Afflicted uses what works best in the found footage pseudo-genre and even shows us a thing or two we've never seen before, but that's only half of the film's freshness. The monster movie and ultimate story of friendship and one man losing his humanity are powerful and engaging. Afflicted rips the throats out of its horror competition this year, giving us the coolest, most energetic genre film in a while.