by Jell Boam
Opening this weekend
Rock of Ages
Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin
The 21st century didn’t start out so well for the biggest movie star in the world. After Tom Cruise’s headline-grabbing departure (ahem, firing) from Paramount in 2006
(he and producing partner Paula Wagner had been producing movies at the studio for 14 years), he began his tenure as the new head of United Artists. After Lions for
Lambs and Cruise’s follow-up, the Hitler assassination thriller Valkyrie, failed to ignite many critical or commercial sparks at the box office, the actor reinvented himself and won back moviegoers’ love … in a hilarious cameo as a paunchy, bald, foul-mouthed studio exec in Tropic Thunder. Now that Cruise and Paramount seemed to put aside their differences with the gi-normous success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the movie star is spreading his wings and re-inventing himself again as a rock star in a Warner Bros. musical. In this PG-13-rated comedy jukebox musical, two young aspiring singers (Julianne Hough, Diego Bonita) fall in love at first sight and chase their dreams through ‘80s Los Angeles. The Plus: The players. Cruise is still box office gold if Protocol’s three-quarter of a billion dollar worldwide take has anything to say about it. Adam Shankman (Hairspray) is directing a no-small-potatoes cast that also includes Baldwin (NBC’s 30 Rock), Hough (Footloose), Boneta (ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars), Russell Brand (Arthur), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rebound), Bryan Cranston (AMC’s Breaking Bad), Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid), Mary J. Blige (I Can Do Bad All By Myself), Will Forte (MacGruber), and Paul Giamatti (Ides of March). The double plus: The songs of Pat Benetar, Def Leppard, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Journey, Night Ranger, and Whitesnake. The Minus: The gamble. Not all Broadway musicals chocked full of movie stars have fared well at the box office and with critics. Nine … ? We’re talking about you.
That’s My Boy
Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg
In 2008, the MTV Movie Awards presented veteran comedian Adam Sandler with the career-spanning MTV Generation Award. While the 45-year-old “Sandman” might seem a bit young to be recognized for a lifetime of work (even by MTV standards), John Q. Moviegoer need only consider that his acting career began in 1987 with a recurring role on The Cosby Show. His true H’wood career began, however, when comedian Dennis Miller recommended him to Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels for a writing job in 1990. This led to a gig as an SNL repertory player, which later spun into a blockbuster movie career (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates). In his latest, the R-rated comedy That’s My Boy, a ne’er-do-well who fathered a boy in his teens (Sandler) shows up on his successful grown son’s (Samberg) doorstep for a handout after years of separation. The Plus: The players. Even when the critics hate him, Sandler rakes in moviegoers (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Just Go With It, Grown Ups). Also, fellow SNL alum Samberg is a rising star and this could prove to be his blockbuster break. Then, there’s the matter of Leighton Meester (The Roommate), James Caan (Elf), and Susan Sarandon (Jeff Who Lives at Home). The Minus: The odds. Sandler’s Jack and Jill was so universally despised
by critics and audiences that there could be a backlash.
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender
Though it’s not exactly a gift from the gods, chest-burstingly thrilling piece of popcorn Prometheus lights a fire of excitement in moviegoers’ bellies. Once it hits the mind, however, the flame starts to dim. In effect, it’s an Alien autopsy, dissecting and building upon an unexplained detail from the 1979 sci-fi classic. Despite a sumptuous visual feast, however, the script is patently ridiculous. The story has interesting ideas, but is oftentimes dotted with lunk-headed dialogue. Also, some characters act without plausible motivation while others get brilliantly fleshed out. Still, within the space of the breathtaking aesthetics, no one hears these screams. Regardless of plot holes bigger than supernovas, it’s a wonderful scaremaker that’s more of a franchise Resurrection than the last go-round.
In this R-rated prequel, a team of scientists (Rapace, Fassbender) gets shepherded by a corporation (Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce) to seek out mankind’s origins in a dark and terrifying corner of the universe.
Thankfully, legendary director Ridley Scott chose to revisit the landmark film that began his storied career with as much verve and edge as he evinced 30 years ago. At first, his latest looks and feels like classic sci-fi — amazing vistas, production design, and edge-of-your-seat thrills seemingly stolen from the film heavens. Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof’s script, however, reduces some characters to stock, force feeds subtext, sweeps away some key story points, and seems more interested in baiting a sequel than high-minded storytelling. Of course, it helps that an ace cast (especially Theron and Fassbender) manages to occasionally pull focus from these head-scratchers. Bottom line: Little Green Eh.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock
More hyperactive than a spastic thyroid, three-times-the-less-charming animated sequel Europe’s Most Wanted is not completely a case of audience cruelty … but it’s close. Still, this chapter begs the question: All along, was the franchise’s title just a portmanteau for madcap gassed-up cartoon? To play on a breakfast cereal analogy: If Madagascar is the deliciously colorful treat right out of the bowl and Escape 2 Africa is the fun-filled, cool-looking toy inside the box, than this second deuce is the discolored overly sweet milk that remains afterwards — brain candy, not brain food. Ironically, Dream Works Animation chose to set this go-round in a circus. It’s the perfect location for this high-energy romp, which tends to place a busy big top over gags more than story.
In this PG-rated animated sequel, a group of zoo animals (Stiller, Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer) hide themselves among the talent in a European traveling circus (Sacha Baron Cohen, Bryan Cranston) on their journey home to the Big Apple.
Dream Works has always been the more smart-alecky cousin to Pixar’s well-rounded dramedies. With How to Train Your Dragon, however, the studio seemed to turn a more mature corner. But here, zing – more than a loving ting, at least – rues the day.
The celebrity pipes deliver the goods, no question (especially Martin Short as Stefano, the sea lion). When the movie shows any trace of heart, it’s quickly bowled over by the frenetic nature of the goings-on. The characters zip around the screen more wildly than Ricochet Rabbit on a cocaine binge. Bottom line: Big Top Phooey.
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, this is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome. In this PG-13-rated Marvel Comics adventure, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)’s international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of superheroes (Downey, Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Giving moviegoers an equal mix of heroic action, comical relief, ace casting, and decent character building, writer/director Joss Whedon forms the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
In pulling off his best Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) imitation, director Peter Berg’s Battleship ends up giving audiences a naval exercise in futility. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, a fleet of American Navy ships must do battle with an armada of robotic otherworldly forces set on a destructive path. Granted, it’s not exactly a bored game. The star-studded talent pool, weapons-grade effects, and clever play on Hasbro’s board game of the same name keep it from becoming a total wash. Unfortunately, even this often-rusty bucket’s unique points aren’t enough to sink moviegoers’ disbelief for over two looooong hours. Blockbuster action flicks should never feel as long as Titanic, even if a love story and ship goes down within the running time. As for the actors getting rained on with awards, pop star Rhianna needn’t bring her umbrella-ella-ella. Bottom line: A sinking feeling.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Judi Dench, Bill Nighy
Despite more than a smidgen of heavy-handedness, more than just a touch of predictability, and more than simply a pinch of smarminess, it’s worth checking into this occasionally charming getaway if only for the wonderfully genuine performances. In this PG-13-rated dramedy, a group of British pensioners (Dench, Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith) decide to outsource their retirement to a hotel in India run by an overzealous young man (Dev Patel). Yes, the end picture is as predetermined as a puzzle with a photo of the neatly assembled pieces featured prominently on its box. It’s meant to be a feel-good patchwork quilt sewn together by multiple stories stocked with ones-to-grow-on. The cast, however, provide excellent needlework. Cloying at times, but ultimately harmless, their Marigold is neither the best nor most exotic but it does offer pleasant refuge for a spell. Bottom line: Average accommodations.
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky with a story that occasionally gets a ’lil ooky, director Tim Burton presents an oftentimes fun and stylish camp update of a unintentionally funny and camptastic soap opera ripe for reimagining. In this PG-13-rated remake, fishing tycoon-turned-vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ’70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs carrying on the family business in a cursed town. Granted, this remake’s unlikely success, however slight, came from a risky roll of the dice. The movie flirts more with comedy than horror as opposed to NBC’s episodic deathly seriousness ’90s remake. The script, however witty, clever, and sometimes frightening, never keeps the audience in the dark or shadows as to its color-by-numbers final act. Even though it’s far from perfect, this horror show is well worth the price of reinvention. Bottom line: Shadows and fog.
Men in Black 3
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
More in the Black than in the red, this sequel is three times more charming than the last go-round … and “time” is the key word. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi sequel, extraterrestrial investigator Agent J. (Smith) time travels to the ’60s where he teams up with a young Agent K. (Josh Brolin) to stop an alien from assassinating his partner’s future self (Jones). This three-quel presents a fun-filled, well acted time travel story that proves a much better follow-up to the stylish alien-hunting original than the series’ unfortunate deuce … doubtful as it seems, given its pedigree (eight years since 2, unfinished script during production). Invaded with great humor, SFX, and performances (Brolin, as the younger Jones, delivering a pitch-perfect performance) this trifecta ends up to be a slightly above average way to hang up the series … if only H’wood was that high minded. Bottom line: Bet on Black to the future.
Snow White & the Huntsman
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron
A fairy tale sprinkled with more grit and spit than pixie dust, this re-imagining of Snow White thankfully owes more to a Huntsman than Uncle Walt. In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure, Snow White (Stewart) becomes a warrioress alongside the huntsman sent to kill her (Chris Hemsworth) after an evil queen (Theron) sentences death on the fairest-of-them-all. The last such re-telling, March’s dreadfully cartoony Mirror Mirror, certainly owed an unseemly amount to Disney’s first animated feature. Here, however, there arises the same vulnerability-derived fierceness and brutality that redefined James Bond and Batman for the post-9/11 age. Much of the credit goes to director Rupert Sanders, who cleverly colors outside the lines with arresting flourish. The tale’s only fractures include an overlong running time and inclusion of an obligatory star-crossed teen love triangle a la The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games. Bottom line: Princely charming.