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!
Wow. What a film. During the opening introduction at the Berlin Film Festival, Norwegian filmmaker Eskil Vogt explained that too many films always feel the same, they're always too predictable, and he wanted to make something different. Something that could even surprise him. And he has done exactly that. Blind, the first feature from writer/director Eskil Vogt, is deserving of the adjectives "brilliant" and "innovative" in the way it twists storytelling conventions and delivers the unexpected; something fresh, a film that stands alone. It's uniquely captivating and surprisingly thoughtful, with a wonderful performance leading the way.
After four years of waiting, it is time to finally experience Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong's first English language feature, a science fiction thriller set entirely on a train. The film is titled Snowpiercer and has been in the news recently over concerns that The Weinstein Company was editing a new version that would lose 20 minutes of scenes (apparently not any more). Snowpiercer just premiered at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, where I finally caught up with it. And, as expected, I was totally and completely lost in the film. It's a masterpiece. I have been a long-standing outspoken fan of Joon-ho Bong and all his films (I interviewed him in 2010) but here he's at the top of his game, exceeding all expectations, delivering a sci-fi for the ages.
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
With all the films based on previously established intellectual property that have already hit the big screen and are still on the way, it's easy to be skeptical of a film that doesn't seem to be trying too hard by simply being called The LEGO Movie. After all, how can you craft a story around the building block toy and the countless, seemingly unrelated worlds that have been turned into various LEGO sets? Thankfully, directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) have crafted an answer that's original and keeps the spirit of imagination alive at a time when Hollywood seems out of creativity.
There's really nothing like a Wes Anderson film. Nothing can compare, from the way he shoots and lights his scenes, to the decadent sets and locations he builds/chooses, to the actors he casts and performances they give. His latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which just premiered at the 2014 Berlinale Film Festival, is strangely not at all what one might be expecting from the trailer, but is nonetheless another good Wes Anderson movie. It has all of his trademarks, but it also has a distinct depth to its complex story, with many layers, that makes it more thoughtful than his most recent work. But above all, it's mostly a fun caper.
While attending a film festival it's always exciting to hear buzz about films that may not have been on our radar before. One film in particular at Sundance 2014 that I kept hearing my colleagues raving about was actually a documentary, one called The Overnighters. It took a little while but I finally caught up with the film after the fest and was so taken aback, so impressed and surprised and genuinely moved by what I saw, I couldn't help but write about it. Overnighters is a refreshingly modern documentary, an utterly compelling, nuanced film that precariously balances the big questions of one of the great dilemmas of this day and age.
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!
With the topic being so controversial, who would have thought that a romantic comedy with abortion at the center of the story would be so damn charming and irresistible. Obvious Child hails from Gillian Robespierre, turning her short film of the same name into a feature length film with "Saturday Night Live" veteran Jenny Slate playing the same role, a twentysomething who finds herself with an unexpected pregnancy after a one night stand with a kind, alluring stranger (Jake Lacy of "The Office"). The familiar meet-cute that would normally drive a generic romantic comedy is made engaging with the abortion focus.
This film can be best described as a (literally) colorful serial killer film starring Ryan Reynolds as a guy who talks with his pets and kills people. Yep, it's already WTF based on that alone, but the film itself - whoa. Marjane Satrapi's The Voices is a film that I'm intrigued even exists with the story it has along with such an impressive cast to boot. I'm honestly not sure if I was amused and entertained or completely horrified watching it. During my screening at Sundance, heaps of moviegoers walked out the moment it started to get bloody. And damn does this film get bloody. But it's also funky and deviously enjoyable, if that's your thing.
First of all, let's be clear that I hate the term "rom-com" because it's such a silly industry abbreviation, as if no one in Hollywood has time for words (though that's evident by the quality of scripts that get turned into movies, but I'm getting away from myself). But the headline needed to fit and be clear: Comedian, writer and director David Wain, and his "Stella" cohort Michael Showalter, have created the perfect parody of romantic comedies with They Came Together. This time, Wain brings Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd (two bit players from the stellar Wet Hot American Summer) together for a meet-cute, with all the cliches.