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.
Two of 2014's best art films focus on disabilities - Blind, directed by Eskil Vogt, an exceptional film about a woman going blind that I reviewed from Berlinale; and The Tribe, directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, a brutal but incredible Ukrainian film about a group of deaf students. The Tribe first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Critic's Week sidebar, winning multiple awards at the end of that fest. I caught the film at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland - it is disturbing but powerful. The film is presented entirely in sign language, without any subtitles or translation or dialogue. It's the beginning of sign language cinema.
At one point in the latest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, our heroes in a half-shell are flying through the sewers on their way back home after a victory against the Foot Clan. After some quick sliding, flipping, skateboarding and more they all go flying towards the entrance back to their home pipe, but all four of them end up getting stuck in the doorway, and Michelangelo farts. That's what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feels like amidst an onslaught of remakes, reboots and sequels: another fart from the studio system that churns out films like this as if they were delivery pizzas that not even the turtles will eat.
"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!
What would happen if you found a time machine when you were in high school. What would you change? How would you use it? And what would be the ramifications of its use? These are some of the questions that a new film called Project Almanac tries to address. Following in the footsteps of the found footage film Chronicle, this film has a similar style and feel, but is about a group of teens who discover plans for a time travel device and put it together on their own (like Primer). They start testing it, using it, and improving its powers, until everything starts to go wrong. It's a blast, an original and energetic creation with a few issues.
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.
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.