Visually haunting and lyrical in style, Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of the novel Under the Skin is the kind of profound sci-fi brain-stopper that will be sure to draw comparisons to some of the greats. We’re talking Kubrick and Roeg comparisons. History will tell if Under the Skin attains any part of that level of legacy, but it’s undeniable the film achieves success in the images it displays before our eyes and the emotions they beckon from the audience’s soul. Always at an arm’s length of understanding its grand design, the film relies on aesthetic and a gripping performance from Scarlett Johansson to hold the viewer’s attention. All things considered, that's not a bad combination of benefits to choose from. Read on!
Cinematographer Wally Pfister's directorial debut, Transcendence, barely even registers. You can forget about it transcending anything. From the minute we're introduced to the wrap-around, and long before we even flash back, the stagnancy of the screenplay begins to dull everything down around it. It's playing on some interesting ideas, concepts that may well come across as far more mind-blowing when found in a science book. Too much is bland in Transcendence, and that goes for story, acting and direction. Not even the immaculate eye of Wally Pfister can escape the black hole of enjoyment that's at the heart of this film.
It's high time comic book movies gave us something serious and incredible. Who am I kidding? Marvel is doing it and doing it well, hitting a steady stride of peaks and valleys on their way to the next big cataclysmic movie event, The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Before we get there though, we have the second adventure of America’s favorite patriot, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an exceptional stopping point along the way. Hungry for a cool, conspiracy theory mystery? It’s here. Got a hankering for awesome, big budget, heavy-hitting, and high-flying excitement that barely lets up? We've got that. Ready for - yes, we keep saying this - the best Marvel movie yet? Captain America: The Winter Soldier stakes that claim too.
"Leave no loose ends," says the tagline for the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger action extravaganza, Sabotage. The line is in reference to the mystery at the heart of the film, but it's a line the writers should have taken to heart in their screenplay. While it's no grand revelation that a Schwarzenegger film is lacking in the writing department, it should be mentioned that Sabotage is the kind of film that prides itself on having both over-the-top, insane violence and a tightly wound, suspenseful story. It wholly delivers on just one of those aspects, but it's never a film that puts a black mark on Schwarzenegger's action career. On the contrary, he may just be succeeding in his action career resurgence where Stallone is stumbling. Read on!
The Muppets are back. Again. It only took one motion picture after their triumphant return to the big screen, but the bloom is definitely off the rose when it comes to what makes the Muppets special. Muppets Most Wanted brings back much of the same creative team behind 2011's The Muppets, but something is missing. The wide variety of jokes are in there, everything from pratfalls to the best "Wocka Wocka" punchlines Fozzie Bear can muster, and the slew of cameo appearances is still on full force. And yet Muppets Most Wanted ultimately comes off as a cash-grab slapped together to keep this Muppet train a-rollin. At least they don't start this one with a song all about the greatness of sequels. Oh, wait. They do.
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.