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Even for those who grew up loving Richard Donner's direction and Christopher Reeves' portrayal of Superman, it's hard denying Man of Steel as the best film version the last son of Krypton has had. Epic in scope and alien - get used to that word - in nature, Man of Steel catapults onto the screen with raw intent. Thanks to the fresh take Christopher Nolan and David Goyer have for the screenplay and the bombastic attitude director Zack Snyder has always been a pro at, the film easily makes us forget Superman was ever a hokier than thou comic book character who just couldn't get a decent big screen adaptation.
If This is The End is any kind of prognosticator, the end of times is going to be a hell of a good time. Another prognostication: This is The End is the comedy event of the summer, taking an inventive premise, filling it with Hollywood's biggest and brightest comedic stars - Sorry, Vince and Owen - and sticking the landing like nothing you've ever seen before. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the writing team behind Superbad and Pineapple Express, offer us a film that is awesome and hilarious, filled with laughs, thrills, genuine emotion, and a coked-out-of-his-gourd Michael Cera. Like I said: Comedy event of the summer.
Every film begins with an initial concept, a premise designed to grab the audience's attention even before the lights in the theater go down. As far as premises go, The Purge carries with it a bold concept, that the United States has allowed all crime, even murder, to be legal for one night leaving the other 364 days of the year practically crime-free. Unfortunately, writer/director James DeMonaco takes that premise and proceeds to create a dull and uninteresting home invasion movie. With little suspense and absolutely no surprises, The Purge squanders a creative, if somewhat nonsensical, idea by giving us a film that doesn't even need that initial concept. A film about a bulimic called The Purge would have been more interesting.
The sci-fi film After Earth marks the return, after 2010's awful The Last Airbender, of director M. Night Shyamalan stepping back behind the camera. It also serves as the second time, after The Pursuit of Happyness, father and son behemoths Will and Jaden Smith have appeared on film as, you guessed it, father and son. Naturally, After Earth needs much more than the talents involved to make it a true winner, but neither the former Fresh Prince, his heir apparent, nor the man behind The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable can keep After Earth from being a slight, bland adventure drenching with hammy sentiment. This film could have hit the big screen 10 years ago and audiences still would have hoped for more. Read on!
It's official. The title of the sixth film in the Fast and the Furious anthology is, at least here in the states, Furious 6. It's Fast and Furious 6 in foreign markets, but it doesn't take long to realize the Fast part of the title is gone. Furious 6 is never as exhilarating as its most recent predecessor, Fast Five, but it's difficult to keep up with that thrill-a-minute spectacular. Still, lack of pace doesn't keep this entry from being a rock-solid action extravaganza with a few genuine tricks up its sleeve. Furious 6 revs up slow, but just like the franchise's muscle-car-loving muscle head lead, it knows when to hit the nitrous: a bit later in the race.
The Hangover Part III is a bad comedy, and not bad like The Hangover Part II's ridiculous in-your-face rehashing of the first film's inventive and hilarious plot. It's as if Todd Phillips, writer/director of the series, got so fed up with complaints of the second film's copy-and-past attitude that he's gone in a completely different direction, to the point that The Hangover Part III isn't really even a comedy. The dark corner the second film took begins turning even harder from scene one. Full scenes go by without attempts at a laugh. What started out as fun has turned deep, dark and depressing...kind of like a bachelor party.
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek universe is one of excitement, adventure, loads of action, the kinds of Summer blockbuster entertainment probably better suited for another sci-fi franchise with "Star" in the title. Don't worry. Abrams will get to that eventually. For now, though, he's determined to inject explosions and shoot-outs into this seemingly scientific mission to explore new worlds. Like its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is one, fine blast of a good time, adding an abundance of laughs to all the excitement, even if the logic on display would make a certain green-blooded somebody break out in an uncomfortable sweat.
On paper, Baz Luhrmann seems the perfect fit for bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' to modern life. The man who put Romeo + Juliet in a gritty LA and burned Paris bright with neon in Moulin Rouge would have an edge up on the gaudy, glitzy gatherings of Mr. Jay Gatsby. To an extent, what's on paper works. Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby is often too literal for its own good, choosing narration and Fitzgerald's text as exposition over something subtler. Luhrmann isn't a subtle man, and where his film suffers in adapting the story, it tries desperately to make up for in glamorous execution.
You have to give Marvel credit. They've allowed their franchises, though all taking place in the same, Avengers-centric world, to fall into hands of auteurs, film makers who have something more to say than "Just point and shoot." Though the results have been varied, certain cinematic voices have been allowed to be heard. And so it goes that summer 2013 kicks off with Shane Black's take on Iron Man. Iron Man 3, written and directed by the man who created Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is as entertaining as it is unique, a comic book one-off with a little mystery and a little edge, something Black is all too gifted for.
Michael Bay put away his giant robot toys for a bit and has moved onto something a little more extreme. Namely, giant, human bodybuilders and their "get rich quick" scams. Pain & Gain, his latest, is at one end the action director's most serious, some would say adult, film to date, taking real-life drama and real-life absurdity and going all in to tell this true story as accurately as a Michael Bay film could be. At the other end, that real-life absurdity makes for some serious hilarity, and Pain & Gain, though it suffers from the lesser-appreciated Bay tropes, ends up being a comedy full of adrenaline and jacked to the gills with laughs.
Moral ambiguity ties into a world seemingly devoid of innocence in Ron Morales' Graceland, the latest film acquired and distributed by Drafthouse Films. A tightly-wound kidnapping thriller set in the overly corrupt Philippines, Graceland strikes a spark early on and never seems interested in dousing the flames until all of Morales' characters are burned, even if just a little. The screenplay adds new elements and interesting facets to the familiar sub-genre, and Morales' direction drives the point home even harder. For all that it has to say, Graceland is a bit hard to watch, but its message deserves to be a bitter pill to swallow.
"Derivative" is the first word that comes to mind when describing Oblivion, the latest sci-fi actioner from Joseph Kosinksi (TRON Legacy, and we all know how that turned out). "Convoluted" has a strong hand here, too, but all of that is screenplay-based. Kosinski's execution is right on, and Oblivion, cliched and overcomplex as it is, strikes a very early, very entertaining summer chord here in 2013. With Tom Cruise, action star extraordinaire, at front and center, Oblivion blasts away before your eyes, keeping your brain occupied so it's not focusing on the flaws. You know, like all good, summer blockbusters do. More below!
Director Danny Boyle's style and cinematic charm does all it can with the screenplay for his latest, Trance. A slick art heist thriller that likes to play in more mind-blowing areas needs someone like Boyle at the helm, able to work in flare to keep your eyes focused. It's so your own mind doesn't wander from what ultimately plays like a Rubik Cube in black and white All the pieces are there, but nothing seems to ever match up. More convoluted than it's payoff is worth, Trance feels like the in-between work of a great artist, that one time he went back to his thriller roots and the psychosexuality ended up taking over. More below!
And here's to you, Jackie Robinson. A feature film showing how you shirked the system, stood up to segregation, and took the baseball field despite masses screaming that you didn't belong. But 42, the film in question about the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, is uninspired for a story about such an inspirational character. Basic principal carries the story part way, and a lead performance that brings out genuine emotion helps. Unfortunately, 42 plays in too standard of a ballpark for this game, and though Robinson's story has never been told on this grand of a stage, it's just all too familiar. More below!