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.
What does "living life to the fullest" really mean? There is an icon, a sports legend, who revolutionized and changed the entire sport he excelled in. He was loved by all, a goofball at heart who lived for the thrill and always kept pushing the limits no matter what that meant. His name was Shane McConkey and he lived a wonderful life, until his tragic demise in 2009 in a skiing BASE jump that went wrong. Collecting years of archival footage, Red Bull, who sponsored the extreme athlete for many years, put together the documentary McConkey chronicling the incredible story of one man who truly lived an exceptional life. It's outstanding.
"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!
A remake to Sam Raimi's 1981 horror classic, The Evil Dead, is not just remaking the film that launched the director's career. It's following two sequels, video games, comic books, and the general icon status of the series' protagonist, Bruce Campbell as Ash, housewares. It's also coming up behind a slew of ripoffs, and let's not forget Cabin in the Woods just yet. But Evil Dead, the remake backed by Raimi's Ghost House Pictures, is more than ready to live up to the challenge, armed with a mean spirit, relentless intensity, and buckets of both practical and digital gore. It's enough to make a Candarian demon daddy proud. Read on!
Yo Joe...again! After Stephen Sommers' hokier-than-thou blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - even that title shrieks hokey - there wasn't much they could have done to turn fans off of a live-action, G.I. Joe franchise more. Thankfully, Hasbro and company took a different approach with G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a follow-up that plays harder, faster, and a much more exciting game than its predecessor. It's no more intelligent, and any series coherency you might have been expecting from the first film is shot all to hell. But Retaliation aims to deliver some stylishly explosive action, something it does over and over again. Read on!
Olympus Has Fallen, the latest actioner from Antoine Fuqua, is touted as "Die Hard in the White House," the first of two similar films being released this. That would lead some to believe it's about a trained authority (in this case a Secret Service agent) going against a group of vicious terrorists who have taken 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hostage and that it would feature loads of exceptional action, colorful villains, and a charismatic ass-kicker equipped with guns and one-liners. The premise is there, but Olympus Has Fallen carries little else of value with it. It's enough to wish for Roland Emmerich's White House Down.
"Bikinis and booties, that's what it's all about," says James Franco as Alien, the trashy, gold-toothed drug dealer antagonist of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. He forgot about boobs, beaches, bake-offs, and bullets, but Korine sure hasn't. Spring Breakers is ultra-grimy and plays to the indecency of its characters, right up the writer/director's alley. For the first time, though, Korine has crafted an exceptional story of a trashy carnival of sex and violence and even allows his directing chops to come out and play. Not only his best film, Spring Breakers is superb in every booty-shaking, sweat-dripping, bullet-flying way.
"The universe, so full of mysteries..." Of course I would fall in love with a movie that starts with that line. There's an indie sci-fi romance film playing in theaters right now called Upside Down, but no one knows about it, it's not doing that well. It received a couple of dismal reviews from critics, but I went to see it this weekend because I love sci-fi and was very curious based on the concept. Then I went to see it again today. Yea, it's that good. Okay well, maybe not that amazing, but it's something extraordinarily different, visually spectacular. This is an early proclamation, but I think it's 2013's Gattaca (which will mean more in a few years looking back). I don't get all the hate for it and I had to confirm my feelings and see it a second time.
A former Oscar winner tries to save the life of a former Oscar nominated darling from the clutches of a sadistic killer in the new thriller, The Call. With that kind of prestige, you might expect more than just a bargain-basement chiller with one interesting hook it rides for as long as possible, but you'd be wrong. The Call, directed by horror-veteran Brad Anderson and starring Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, starts out a taut, no-wasted-motion thriller, working through every generic turn the genre has to offer with glee, but ends up a messy waste of everyone's time. It's not the kind of movie that warrants an Oscar...for anyone.
Sam Raimi, whether creating new and exciting worlds as in The Evil Dead series or adapting amazing icons like Spider-Man to the screen, has always found a way to effortlessly bring his own flairs to whatever story he was telling. So it comes as no surprise to hear that his take on Oz: The Great and Powerful, a semi-prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz and adaptation of a couple of L. Frank Baum's timeless novels, is as much a Raimi film as it is an Oz film. Loaded with wondrous visuals and perfectly timed humor, a staple of noted director, the film transcends prequel status to give us an adaptation worth celebrating.